|Biggest ever ID theft case cracked
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Eleven people have been charged with stealing and selling details gleaned from transactions in retail and restaurant chains over the last five years. They are accused of breaking into shops' computer systems via unprotected wireless internet connections, before capturing information about millions of customers.
One of the companies believed to have been hit by the ring, TJX, is the parent company of the British retail chain TK Maxx. Last January TJX admitted they had suffered a security breach involving the details of "at least 45.6m" cards used by customers since 2005 in their British, American and Canadian shops. However banks and card companies later said 94m cards had been exposed in the incident.
A spokesman from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that the ring was an "international conspiracy" that stretched from America to East Asia, via Eastern Europe. Those charged include people from China, Estonia, Ukraine and Belarus, as well as the US.
He said that the alleged fraudsters had inflicted "widespread losses" on retailers, customers and banks, but did not give a total figure. The card company Visa estimated that £40m was stolen from accounts using their cards in the TJX incident alone.
The hackers, allegedly led by Albert "Segvec" Gonzalez, of Miami, the only one currently in custody, are accused of "wardriving" - driving around streets in search of unprotected Wi-Fi networks. It is alleged that once they had broken into the networks via their laptops, they installed "sniffer" software on to the shops' computers, which captured customers' card numbers, passwords and other personal data and passed it back to them.
The defendants then allegedly concealed the stolen data in computer servers in Eastern Europe and the US, before allegedly selling credit and debit card numbers to other criminals over the internet. These criminals then encoded the stolen numbers on to the magnetic strips of blank cards and used them to steal customers' money.
Gonzalez faces life in prison if convicted of all the charges levelled against him.
Michael B. Mukasey, the US Attorney General, said at a news conference: "This case highlights our increasing vulnerability to the theft of personal information.
"Computer networks and the Internet are an indispensable part of the world economy. But even as they provide extraordinary opportunities for legitimate commerce and communication, they also provide extraordinary opportunities for criminals. Where criminals are able to breach computer security systems, as alleged here, they have enormous ability to cause harm."
But he insisted: "Cases like this send a clear message to those who might be tempted to abuse our computer networks to steal information and harm law-abiding people and businesses: If you do, we will track you down wherever you are in the world, we will arrest you, and we will send you to jail."
Other US chains targeted by the alleged fraudsters include BJ's Wholesale Club, DSW Shoe Warehouse, OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble, Boston Market, Sports Authority and Forever 21.
Source: telegraph UK
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