Adam Benson remembers the first time his credit card number was stolen. Someone had opened up his parents' mailbox and found his credit card statement. That theft now seems quaint to Benson, deputy executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance, who researches online black markets and the preferred tools of a hacker.
The mailbox danger still exists but has largely been replaced by the anonymous hacker working in the shadows to take, and then sell, troves of personal information online.
"There's always been a market for data. A Social Security number had value to a criminal in the 1970s just as it does now," said Benson. "What's changed is, technology has made it possible for some skilled people — or even not so skilled, in some cases — to get a hold of this data and utilize it."