Equifax Breach Fallout: Your Salary History

In May, KrebsOnSecurity broke a story about lax security at a payroll division of big-three credit bureau Equifax that let identity thieves access personal and financial data on an unknown number of Americans. Incredibly, this same division makes it simple to access detailed salary and employment history on a large portion of Americans using little more than someone’s Social Security number and date of birth — both data elements that were stolen in the recent breach at Equifax.

twn

At issue is a service provided by Equifax’s TALX division called The Work Number. The service is designed to provide automated employment and income verification for prospective employers, and tens of thousands of companies report employee salary data to it. The Work Number also allows anyone whose employer uses the service to provide proof of their income when purchasing a home or applying for a loan.

The homepage for this Equifax service wants to assure visitors that “Your personal information is protected.”

“With your consent your personal data can be retrieved only by credentialed verifiers,” Equifax assures us, referring mainly to banks and other entities that request salary data for purposes of setting credit limits.

Sadly, this isn’t anywhere near true because most employers who contribute data to The Work Number — including Fortune 100 firms, government agencies and universities — rely on horribly weak authentication for access to the information.

To find out how easy it is to view your detailed salary history, you’ll need your employer’s name or employer code. Helpfully, this page lets you look that up quite easily (although if you opt to list employers alphabetically by the fist letter of the company name, there are so many entries for each letter that I found Equifax’s database simply crashes half the time instead of rendering the entire list).

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What’s needed to access your salary and employment history? Go here, and enter the employer name or employer code. After that, it asks for a “user ID.” This might sound like privileged information, but in most cases this is just the employees’s Social Security number (or a portion of it).

At the next step, the site asks visitors to “enter your PIN,” short for Personal Identification Number. However, in the vast majority of cases this appears to be little more than someone’s eight-digit date of birth. The formats differ by employer, but it’s usually either yyyy/mm/dd or mm/dd/yyyy, without the slashes.

Successful validation to the system produces two sets of data: An employee’s salary and employment history going back at least a decade, and a report listing all of the entities (ostensibly, the aforementioned “credentialed verifiers”) that have previously requested and viewed this information.

Once you’re successfully “authenticated,” the system asks you to change your PIN to something more secret than your birthday. When the default PIN is changed, The Work Number prompts users to select a series of six challenge/response questions, which Equifax claims will “improve the security of your data and create an extra layer of protection on your account.”

Unfortunately, consumers whose employee history is stored by this service effectively have no privacy or security unless they possess both the awareness that this service exists and the forethought to access their account online before identity thieves or others do it first.

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The Work Number does allow employers to opt for TALX’s “enhanced authentication” feature, wherein after logging in with your employer ID and PIN (often the last four digits of an SSN plus the birth year), the system is designed to require the requester to respond to an email at a work address or a phone call to a work number to validate the login.

However, I did not find this to be the case in several instances involving readers whose employers supposedly used this enhanced authentication method. In cases where corporate human resources departments fail to populate employee email addresses and phone numbers, the system defaults to asking visitors to enter any email address and phone number to complete the validation. This is detailed here (PDF), wherein The Work Number states “if you do not have the required phone and e-mail information on file, you will be prompted to update/add your phone numbers/email addresses.”

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Worse yet, while companies that use this service tend to vary their approaches to what’s required in terms of user IDs and PINs, a great many employers publish online detailed instructions on how to fill out these various forms. For example, the State of California‘s process is listed here (PDF); instructions for the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) are here; employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can learn the steps by consulting this document (PDF). The process for getting this information on current and former UCLA employees is spelled out here. There are countless other examples that are easy to find with a simple Internet search.

Many readers probably consider their current and former salaries to be very private information, but as we can see this data is easily available on a broad spectrum of the working population in America today. The information needed to obtain it has been widely compromised in thousands of data breaches over the past few years, and the SSN and DOB on most Americans is for sale in a variety of places online. In short, if you can get these details from Equifax’s online service, so can anyone else.

Fortunately, you can reduce the likelihood that an acquaintance, co-worker, stalker or anyone else can do this by claiming your own account, changing the PIN and selecting a half-dozen security questions and answers. As always, it’s best not to answer these questions truthfully, but to input answers that only you will know and that can’t be found using social networking sites or other public data sources.

I could see this service potentially helping to create a toxic workplace environment because it offers a relatively simple method for employees to glean data about the salaries of their co-workers and bosses. While some people believe that companies should be more transparent about employee salaries, this data in the wrong hands very often generates a great deal of resentment and hostility among co-workers.

Employers who use The Work Number should strongly consider changing as many defaults as possible, and truly implementing the service’s enhanced authentication features.

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and as such KrebsOnSecurity will continue pointing readers to similar services that let anyone access your personal data armed with little more than static identifiers about you that should no longer be considered private. Although some readers may take issue with my pointing these out — reasoning that I’m only making it easier for bad people to do bad things — it’s important to understand that knowledge is half the battle: Planting your flag before someone else does is usually the only way to keep others from abusing such services to expose your personal information.

Related reading:

USPS ‘Informed Delivery’ is Stalker’s Dream
Student Aid Tool Held Key for Tax Fraudsters
Sign Up at IRS.gov Before Crooks Do It For You
Crooks Hijack Retirement Funds via SSA Portal
Social Security Administration Now Requires Two-Factor Authentication
SSA: Ixnay on txt msg reqmnt 4 e-acct, sry

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/10/equifax-breach-fallout-your-salary-history/

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Fear Not: You, Too, Are a Cybercrime Victim!

Maybe you’ve been feeling left out because you weren’t among the lucky few hundred million or billion who had their personal information stolen in either the Equifax or Yahoo! breaches. Well buck up, camper: Both companies took steps to make you feel better today.

Yahoo! announced that, our bad!: It wasn’t just one billion users who had their account information filched in its record-breaking 2013 data breach. It was more like three billion (read: all) users. Meanwhile, big three credit bureau Equifax added 2.5 million more victims to its roster of 143 million Americans who had their Social Security numbers and other personal data filched in a breach earlier this year. At the same time, Equifax’s erstwhile CEO informed Congress that the breach was the result of even more bone-headed security than was first disclosed.

To those still feeling left out by either company after this spate of bad news, I have only one thing to say (although I feel a bit like a broken record in repeating this): Assume you’re compromised, and take steps accordingly.

If readers are detecting a bit of sarcasm and cynicism in my tone here, it may be that I’m still wishing I’d done almost anything else today besides watching three hours worth of testimony from former Equifax CEO Richard Smith before lawmakers on a panel of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

While he is no longer the boss of Equifax, Smith gamely agreed to submit to several day’s worth of grilling from legislators in both houses of Congress this week. It was clear from the questions that lawmakers didn’t ask in Round One, however, that Smith was far more prepared for the first batch of questioning than they were, and that the entire ordeal would amount to only a gentle braising.

Nevertheless, Smith managed to paint a even more dismal picture than was already known about the company’s efforts to secure the very data that makes up the core of its business. Helpfully, Smith clarified early on in the hearing that the company’s customers are in fact banks and other businesses — not consumers.

Smith told lawmakers that the breach stemmed from a combination of technological error and a human error, casting the breach as the kind of failure that could have happened to anyone. In reality, the company waited 4.5 months (until after it discovered the breach in late July 2017) to fix a dangerous security flaw that it should have known was being exploited on Day One (~March 6 or 7, 2017).

“The human error involved the failure to apply a software patch to a dispute portal in March 2017,” Smith said. He declined to explain (and lawmakers inexplicably failed to ask) how 145.5 million Americans — nearly 60 percent of the adult population of the United States — could have had their information tied up in a dispute portal at Equifax. “The technological error involved a scanner which failed to detect a vulnerability on that particular portal.”

As noted in this Wired.com story, Smith admitted that the data which was compromised in the breach was not encrypted:

When asked by representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois about what data Equifax encrypts in its systems, Smith admitted that the data compromised in the customer-dispute portal was stored in plaintext and would have been easily readable by attackers. “We use many techniques to protect data—encryption, tokenization, masking, encryption in motion, encrypting at rest,” Smith said. “To be very specific, this data was not encrypted at rest.”

It’s unclear exactly what of the pilfered data resided in the portal versus other parts of Equifax’s system, but it turns out that also didn’t matter much, given Equifax’s attitude toward encryption overall. “OK, so this wasn’t [encrypted], but your core is?” Kinzinger asked. “Some, not all,” Smith replied. “There are varying levels of security techniques that the team deploys in different environments around the business.”

Smith also sought to justify the company’s historically poor breach response after it publicly disclosed the breach on Sept. 7 — roughly 40 days after it says Equifax’s security team first became aware of the incident (on July 29). As many readers here are well familiar, KrebsOnSecurity likened that breach response to a dumpster fire — noting that it was perhaps the most haphazard and ill-conceived of any major data breach disclosure in history.

Smith artfully dodged questions of why the company waited so long to notify the public, and about the perception that Equifax sought to profit off of its own data breach. One lawmaker noted that Smith gave two public speeches in the second and third weeks of August in which he was quoted as saying that fraud was a “a huge opportunity for Equifax,” and that it was a “massive, growing business” for the company.

Smith interjected that he had “no indication” that consumer data was compromised at the time of the Aug. 11 speech. As for the Aug. 17 address, he said “we did not know how much data was compromised, what data was compromised.”

Follow-up questions from lawmakers on the panel revealed that Smith didn’t ask for a briefing about what was then allegedly only classified internally as “suspicious activity” until August 15, almost two weeks after the company hired outside cybersecurity experts to examine the issue.

Smith also maneuvered around questions about why Equifax chose to disclose the breach on the very day that Hurricane Irma was dominating front-page news with an imminent landfall on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

However, Smith did blame Irma in explaining why the company’s phone systems were simply unable to handle the call volume from U.S. consumers concerned about the Category Five data breach, saying that Irma took down two of Equifax’s largest call centers days after the breach disclosure. He said the company handled over 420 million consumer visits to the portal designed to help people figure out whether they were victimized in the breach, underscoring how so many American adults were forced to revisit the site again and again because it failed to give people consistent answers about whether they were affected.

Just a couple of hours after the House Commerce panel hearing ended, Politico ran a story noting that the Internal Revenue Service opted to award Equifax a $7.25 million no-bid contract to provide identity-proofing and anti-fraud services to the tax bureau. Bear in mind that Equifax’s poor security contributed to an epidemic of tax refund fraud at the IRS in the 2015 and 2016 tax years, when fraudsters took advantage of weak security questions provided to the IRS by Equifax to file and claim phony tax refund requests on behalf of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers.

Don’t forget that tax fraudsters exploited this same lax security at Equifax’s TALX payroll division to steal employee tax records from an as-yet undisclosed number of companies between April 2016 and March 2017.

Finally, much of today’s hearing centered around questions about the difference between a security freeze — a right that was hard-won on a state-by-state level over several years — and the “credit lock” services being pushed instead by Equifax and the big bureaus. Lawmakers on today’s panel seemed content with Smith’s answer that the two things were effectively the same, only that a freeze was more cumbersome and costly, whereas credit locks were free and far more consumer-friendly.

To those still wavering on which is better, I have only to point to reasoning by Christina Tetreault, a staff attorney on the financial services team of Consumers Union — the policy arm of Consumer Reports. Tetreault notes that perhaps the main reason a security freeze is the better option is that its promise to guard your credit accounts is guaranteed by law, whereas a credit lock is simply an agreement between you and the credit monitoring company.

“Having a contractual agreement is not as strong as having protections under law,” Tetreault said. “The contract may be unclear, may include provisions that allow the other party to change it, or include provisions that you may be better off not agreeing to, such as an arbitration agreement.”

What’s more, placing a freeze on your file is exactly what Equifax and the other bureaus do not want you to do, because it prevents them from making money by selling your credit file to banks and others (including ID thieves) who wish to grant new lines of credit in your name. If that’s not the best reason for opting for a freeze, I don’t know what is.

If anyone needs more convincing on this front, check out the testimony given in other committees today by representatives from banking behemoth Wells Fargo, which is under fire signing up tens of thousands of auto loan customers for insurance they did not need and in some cases couldn’t afford. That scandal comes on the heels of another debacle in which Wells Fargo was found to have created more than 3.5 million bank accounts without consumers’ permission between 2009 and 2016.

Mr. Smith is slated to testify before at least three other committees in the House and Senate this week before he’s off the hot seat. On Friday, KrebsOnSecurity published a lengthy list of questions that lawmakers should consider asking the former Equifax CEO. Here’s hoping our elected representatives don’t merely use these additional opportunities for more grandstanding and regurgitating the same questions.

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/10/fear-not-you-too-are-a-cybercrime-victim/

USPS ‘Informed Delivery’ Is Stalker’s Dream

A free new service from the U.S. Postal Service that provides scanned images of incoming mail before it is slated to arrive at its destination address is raising eyebrows among security experts who worry about the service’s potential for misuse by private investigators, identity thieves, stalkers or abusive ex-partners. The USPS says it hopes to have changes in place by early next year that could help blunt some of those concerns.

The service, dubbed “Informed Delivery,” has been available to select addresses in several states since 2014 under a targeted USPS pilot program, but it has since expanded to include many ZIP codes nationwide, according to the Postal Service. U.S. residents can tell if their address is eligible by visiting informeddelivery.usps.com.

Image: USPS

Image: USPS

According to the USPS, some 6.3 million accounts have been created via the service so far. The Postal Service says consumer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among residents who travel regularly and wish to keep close tabs on any mail being delivered while they’re on the road.

But a review of the methods used by the USPS to validate new account signups suggests the service is wide open to abuse by a range of parties, mainly because of weak authentication and because it is not easy to opt out of the service.

Signing up requires an eligible resident to create a free user account at USPS.com, which asks for the resident’s name, address and an email address. The final step in validating residents involves answering four so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions. KrebsOnSecurity has relentlessly assailed KBA as an unreliable authentication method because so many answers to the multiple-guess questions are available on sites like Spokeo and Zillow, or via social networking profiles.

Once signed up, a resident can view scanned images of the front of each piece of incoming mail in advance of its arrival. Unfortunately, because of the weak KBA questions (provided by recently-breached big-three credit bureau Equifax, no less) stalkers, jilted ex-partners, and private investigators also can see who you’re communicating with via the Postal mail.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a big deal if the USPS notified residents by snail mail when someone signs up for the service at their address, but it doesn’t.

Peter Swire, a privacy and security expert at Georgia Tech and a senior counsel at the law firm of Alston & Bird, said strong authentication relies on information collected from multiple channels — such as something you know (a password) and something you have (a mobile phone). In this case, however, the USPS has opted not to leverage a channel that it uniquely controls, namely the U.S. Mail system.

“The whole service is based on a channel they control, and they should use that channel to verify people,” Swire said. “That increases user trust that it’s a good service. Multi-channel authentication is becoming the industry norm, and the U.S. Postal Service should catch up to that.” 

I also wanted to know whether there was any way for households to opt out of having scanned images of their mail sent as part of this offering. The USPS replied that consumers may contact the Informed Delivery help desk to request that the service not be presented to anyone in their household. “Each request is individually reviewed and assessed by members of the Postal Service Informed Delivery, Privacy and Legal teams,” the Postal Service replied.

There does not appear to be any limit on the number of people who can sign up for the service at any one address, except that one needs to know the names and KBA question answers for a valid resident of that address.

“Informed Delivery may be accessed by any adult member of a household,” the USPS wrote in response to questions. “Each member of the household must be able to complete the identity proofing process implemented by the Postal Service.”

The Postal Service said it is not possible for an address occupant to receive emailed, scanned images of incoming mail at more than one email address. In other words, if you wish to prevent others from signing up in your name or in the name of any other adults at the address, the surest way to do that may be to register your own account and then urge all other adult residents at the address to create their own accounts.

A highly positive story about Informed Delivery published by NBC in April 2017 suggests another use for the service: Reducing mail theft. However, without stronger authentication, this service could let local ID thieves determine with pinpoint accuracy exactly when mail worth stealing is set to arrive.

The USPS says businesses are not currently eligible to sign up as recipients of Informed Delivery. However, people running businesses out of their home could also be the target of competitors hoping to steal away customers, or to pose as partner firms in demanding payment for outstanding invoices.

Informed Delivery seems like a useful service for those residents who wish to take advantage of it. But lacking stronger consumer validation the service seems ripe for abuse. The USPS should use its own unique communications channel (snail mail) to alert Americans when their physical address has been signed up for this service.

Bob Dixon, the executive program director for Informed Delivery, said the Postal Service is working on an approach that it hopes to make available to the public in January 2018 which would allow USPS to send written notification to addresses when someone at that residence signs up for Informed Delivery.

Dixon said that capability will build on technology already in place to notify Americans via mail when a change of address is requested. Currently, the USPS allows address changes via the USPS Web site or in-person at any one of more than 3,000 post offices nationwide. When a request is processed, the USPS sends a confirmation letter to both the old address and the new address.

If someone already signed up for Informed Delivery later posts a change of address request, the USPS does not automatically transfer the Informed Delivery service to the new address: Rather, it sends a mailer with a special code tied to the new address and to the username that requested the change. To resume Informed Delivery at the new address, that code needs to be entered online using the account that requested the address change.

“Part of coming up with a mail-based verification system will also let us do some additional notification that, candidly, we just haven’t built yet,” Dixon said. “It is our intent to have this ready by January 2018, and it is one of our higher priorities to get it done by then.”

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/10/usps-informed-delivery-is-stalkers-dream/

Here’s What to Ask the Former Equifax CEO

Richard Smith — who resigned as chief executive of big-three credit bureau Equifax this week in the wake of a data breach that exposed 143 million Social Security numbers — is slated to testify in front of no fewer than four committees on Capitol Hill next week. If I were a lawmaker, here are some of the questions I’d ask when Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

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Before we delve into the questions, a bit of background is probably in order. The new interim CEO of Equifax — Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. — took to The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets this week to publish a mea culpa on all the ways Equifax failed in responding to this breach (the title of the op-ed in The Journal was literally “I’m sorry”).

“We were hacked,” Barros wrote. “That’s the simple fact. But we compounded the problem with insufficient support for consumers. Our website did not function as it should have, and our call center couldn’t manage the volume of calls we received. Answers to key consumer questions were too often delayed, incomplete or both.”

Barros stated that Equifax was working to roll out a new system by Jan. 31, 2018 that would let consumers “easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files.”

“You will be able to do this at will,” he continued. “It will be reliable, safe, and simple. Most significantly, the service will be offered free, for life.”

I have argued for years that all of the data points needed for identity thieves to open new lines of credit in your name and otherwise ruin your credit score are available for sale in the cybercrime underground. To be certain, the Equifax breach holds the prospect that ID thieves could update all that stolen data with newer records. I’ve argued that the only sane response to this sorry state of affairs is for consumers to freeze their files at the bureaus, which blocks potential creditors — and ID thieves — from trashing your credit file and credit score.

Equifax is not the only bureau promoting one of these lock services. Since Equifax announced its breach on Sept. 7, big-three credit bureaus Trans Union and Experian have worked feverishly to steer consumers seeking freezes toward these locks instead, arguing that they are easier to use and allow consumers to lock and unlock their credit files with little more than the press of a button on a mobile phone app. Oh, and the locks are free, whereas the bureaus can (and do) charge consumers for placing and/or thawing a freeze (the laws freeze fee laws differ from state to state).

CREDIT FREEZE VS. CREDIT LOCK

My first group of questions would center around security freezes or credit freezes, and the difference between those and these credit lock services being pushed hard by the bureaus.

Currently, even consumer watchdog groups say they are uncertain about the difference between a freeze and a lock. See this press release from Thursday by U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, for one such example.

Also, I’m curious to know what percentage of Americans had a freeze prior to the breach, and how many froze their credit files (or attempted to do so) after Equifax announced the breach. The answers to these questions may help explain why the bureaus are now massively pushing their new credit lock offerings (i.e., perhaps they’re worried about the revenue hit they’ll take should a significant percentage of Americans decide to freeze their credit files).

I suspect the pre-breach number is less than one percent. I base this guess loosely on some data I received from the head of security at Dropbox, who told KrebsOnSecurity last year that less than one percent of its user base of 500 million registered users had chosen to turn on 2-factor authentication for their accounts. This extra security step can block thieves from accessing your account even if they steal your password, but many consumers simply don’t take advantage of such offerings because either they don’t know about them or they find them inconvenient.

Bear in mind that while most two-factor offerings are free, most freezes involve fees, so I’d expect the number of pre-breach freezers to be a fraction of one percent. However, if only one half of one percent of Americans chose to freeze their credit files before Equifax announced its breach — and if the total number of Americans requesting a freeze post-breach rose to, say, one percent — that would still be a huge jump (and potentially a painful financial hit to Equifax and the other bureaus).

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So without further ado, here are some questions I’d ask on the topic of credit locks and freezes:

-Approximately how many credit files on Americans does Equifax currently maintain?

-Prior to the Equifax breach, approximately how many Americans had chosen to freeze their credit files at Equifax?

-Approximately how many total Americans today have requested a freeze from Equifax? This should include the company’s best estimate on the number of people who have requested a freeze but — because of the many failings of Equifax’s public response cited by Barros — were unable to do so via phone or the Internet.

-Approximately how much does Equifax charge each time the company sells a credit check (i.e., a bank or other potential creditor performs a “pull” on a consumer credit file)?

-On average, how many times per year does Equifax sell access to consumer’s credit file to a potential creditor?

-Mr. Barros said Equifax will extend its offer of free credit freezes until the end of January 2018. Why not make them free indefinitely, just as the company says it plans to do with its credit lock service?

-In what way does a consumer placing a freeze on their credit file limit Equifax’s ability to do business?

-In what way does a consumer placing a lock on their credit file limit Equifax’s ability to do business?

-If a lock accomplishes the same as a freeze, why create more terminology that only confuses consumers?

-By agreeing to use Equifax’s lock service, will consumers also be opting in to any additional marketing arrangements, either via Equifax or any of its partners?

BREACH RESPONSE

Equifax could hardly have bungled their breach response more if they tried. It is said that one should never attribute to malice what can more easily be explained by incompetence, but Equifax surely should have known that how they handled their public response would be paramount to their ability to quickly put this incident behind them and get back to business as usual.

dumpsterfire

Equifax has come under heavy criticism for waiting too long to disclose this breach. It has said that the company became aware of the intrusion on July 29, and yet it did not publicly disclose the breach until Sept. 7.However, when Equifax did disclose, it seemed like everything about the response was rushed and ill-conceived.

One theory that I simply cannot get out of my head is that perhaps Equifax rushed preparations for is breach disclosure and response because it was given a deadline by extortionists who were threatening to disclose the breach on their own if the company did not comply with some kind of demand.

-I’d ask a question of mine that Equifax refused to answer shortly after the breach: Whether the company was the target of extortionists over this data breach *before* the breach was officially announced on Sept. 7.

-Equifax said the attackers abused a vulnerability in Apache Struts to break in to the company’s Web applications. That Struts flaw was patched by the Apache Foundation on March 8, 2017, but Equifax waited until after July 30, 2017 — after it learned of the breach — to patch the vulnerability. Why did Equifax decide to wait four and a half months to apply this critical update?

-How did Equifax become aware of this breach? Was it from an external source, such as law enforcement?

-Assuming Equifax learned about this breach from law enforcement agencies, what did those agencies say regarding how they learned about the breach?

FRAUD AND ABUSE

Multiple news organizations have reported that companies which track crimes related to identity theft — such as account takeovers, new account fraud, and e-commerce fraud — saw huge upticks in all of these areas corresponding to two periods that are central to Equifax’s breach timeline; the first in mid-May, when Equifax said the intruders began abusing their access to the company, and the second late July/early August, when Equifax said it learned about the breach.

This chart shows spikes in various forms of identity abuse — including account takeovers and new account fraud — as tracked by ThreatMetrix, a San Jose, Calif. firm that helps businesses prevent fraud.

-Has Equifax performed any analysis on consumer credit reports to determine if there has been any pattern of consumer harm as a result of this breach?

-Assuming the answer to the previous question is yes, did the company see any spikes in applications for new lines of consumer credit corresponding to these two time periods in 2017?

Many fraud experts report that a fast-growing area of identity theft involves so-called “synthetic ID theft,” in which fraudsters take data points from multiple established consumer identities and merge them together to form a new identity. This type of fraud often takes years to result in negative consequences for consumers, and very often the debt collection agencies will go after whoever legitimately owns the Social Security number used by that identity, regardless of who owns the other data points.

-Is Equifax aware of a noticeable increase in synthetic identity theft in recent months or years?

-What steps, if any, does Equifax take to ensure that multiple credit files are not using the same Social Security number?

-Prior to its breach disclosure, Equifax spent more than a half million dollars in the first half of 2017 lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would limit the legal liability of credit bureaus in connection with data security lapses. Do you still believe such legislation is necessary? Why or why not?

What questions did I leave out, Dear Readers? Or is there a way to make a question above more succinct? Sound off in the comments below, and I may just add yours to the list!

In the meantime, here are the committees at which Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith will be testifying next week on Capitol Hill. Some of these committees will no doubt be live-streaming the hearings. Check back at the links below on the morning-of for more information on that. Also, C-SPAN almost certainly will be streaming some of these as well:

-Tuesday, Oct. 3, 10:00 a.m., House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rayburn House Office Bldg. Room 2123.

-Wednesday, Oct. 5, 10:00 a.m., Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs. Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Room 538.

-Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2:30 p.m., Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Room 226.

-Thursday, Oct. 6, 9:15 a.m., House Financial Services Committee. Rayburn House Office Bldg., Room 2128.

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/09/heres-what-to-ask-the-former-equifax-ceo/

Breach at Sonic Drive-In May Have Impacted Millions of Credit, Debit Cards

Sonic Drive-In, a fast-food chain with nearly 3,600 locations across 45 U.S. states, has acknowledged a breach affecting an unknown number of store payment systems. The ongoing breach may have led to a fire sale on millions of stolen credit and debit card accounts that are now being peddled in shadowy underground cybercrime stores, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

sonicdrivein

The first hints of a breach at Oklahoma City-based Sonic came last week when I began hearing from sources at multiple financial institutions who noticed a recent pattern of fraudulent transactions on cards that had all previously been used at Sonic.

I directed several of these banking industry sources to have a look at a brand new batch of some five million credit and debit card accounts that were first put up for sale on Sept. 18 in a credit card theft bazaar previously featured here called Joker’s Stash:

This batch of some five million cards put up for sale Sept. 26, 2017 on the popular carding site Joker's Stash has been tied to a breach at Sonic Drive-In

This batch of some five million cards put up for sale today (Sept. 26, 2017) on the popular carding site Joker’s Stash has been tied to a breach at Sonic Drive-In. The first batch of these cards appear to have been uploaded for sale on Sept. 15.

Sure enough, two sources who agreed to purchase a handful of cards from that batch of accounts on sale at Joker’s discovered they all had been recently used at Sonic locations.

Armed with this information, I phoned Sonic, which responded within an hour that it was indeed investigating “a potential incident” at some Sonic locations.

“Our credit card processor informed us last week of unusual activity regarding credit cards used at SONIC,” reads a statement the company issued to KrebsOnSecurity. “The security of our guests’ information is very important to SONIC. We are working to understand the nature and scope of this issue, as we know how important this is to our guests. We immediately engaged third-party forensic experts and law enforcement when we heard from our processor. While law enforcement limits the information we can share, we will communicate additional information as we are able.”

Christi Woodworth, vice president of public relations at Sonic, said the investigation is still in its early stages, and the company does not yet know how many or which of its stores may be impacted.

The accounts apparently stolen from Sonic are part of a batch of cards that Joker’s Stash is calling “Firetigerrr,” and they are indexed by city, state and ZIP code. This geographic specificity allows potential buyers to purchase only cards that were stolen from Sonic customers who live near them, thus avoiding a common anti-fraud defense in which a financial institution might block out-of-state transactions from a known compromised card.

Malicious hackers typically steal credit card data from organizations that accept cards by hacking into point-of-sale systems remotely and seeding those systems with malicious software that can copy account data stored on a card’s magnetic stripe. Thieves can use that data to clone the cards and then use the counterfeits to buy high-priced merchandise from electronics stores and big box retailers.

Prices for the cards advertised in the Firetigerr batch are somewhat higher than for cards stolen in other breaches, likely because this batch is extremely fresh and unlikely to have been canceled by card-issuing banks yet.

Dumps available for sale on Joker’s Stash from the “FireTigerrr” base, which has been linked to a breach at Sonic Drive-In. Click image to enlarge.

Most of the cards range in price from $25 to $50, and the price is influenced by a number of factors, including: the type of card issued (Amex, Visa, MasterCard, etc); the card’s level (classic, standard, signature, platinum, etc.); whether the card is debit or credit; and the issuing bank.

I should note that it remains unclear whether Sonic is the only company whose customers’ cards are being sold in this particular batch of five million cards at Joker’s Stash. There are some (as yet unconfirmed) indications that perhaps Sonic customer cards are being mixed in with those stolen from other eatery brands that may be compromised by the same attackers.

The last known major card breach involving a large nationwide fast-food chain impacted more than a thousand Wendy’s locations and persisted for almost nine months after it was first disclosed here. The Wendy’s breach was extremely costly for card-issuing banks and credit unions, which were forced to continuously re-issue customer cards that kept getting re-compromised every time their customers went back to eat at another Wendy’s.

Part of the reason Wendy’s corporate offices had trouble getting a handle on the situation was that most of the breached locations were not corporate-owned but instead independently-owned franchises whose payment card systems were managed by third-party point-of-sale vendors.

According to Sonic’s Wikipedia page, roughly 90 percent of Sonic locations across America are franchised.

Dan Berger, president and CEO of the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions, said he’s not looking forward to the prospect of another Wendy’s-like fiasco.

“It’s going to be the financial institution that makes them whole, that pays off the charges or replaces money in the customer’s checking account, or reissues the cards, and all those costs fall back on the financial institutions,” Berger said. “These big card breaches are going to continue until there’s a national standard that holds retailers and merchants accountable.”

Financial institutions also bear some of the blame for the current state of affairs. The United States is embarrassingly the last of the G20 nations to make the shift to more secure chip-based cards, which are far more expensive and difficult for criminals to counterfeit. But many financial institutions still haven’t gotten around to replacing traditional magnetic stripe cards with chip-based cards. According to Visa, 58 percent of the more than 421 million Visa cards issued by U.S. financial institutions were chip-based as of March 2017.

Likewise, retailers that accept chip cards may present a less attractive target to hackers than those that don’t. In March 2017, Visa said the number of chip-enabled merchant locations in the country reached two million, representing 44 percent of stores that accept Visa.

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/09/breach-at-sonic-drive-in-may-have-impacted-millions-of-credit-debit-cards/

Source: Deloitte Breach Affected All Company Email, Admin Accounts

Deloitte, one of the world’s “big four” accounting firms, has acknowledged a breach of its internal email systems, British news outlet The Guardian revealed today. Deloitte has sought to downplay the incident, saying it impacted “very few” clients. But according to a source close to the investigation, the breach dates back to at least the fall of 2016, and involves the compromise of all administrator accounts at the company as well as Deloitte’s entire internal email system.

deloitte

In a story published Monday morning, The Guardian said a breach at Deloitte involved usernames, passwords and personal data on the accountancy’s top blue-chip clients.

“The Guardian understands Deloitte clients across all of these sectors had material in the company email system that was breached,” The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins wrote. “The companies include household names as well as US government departments. So far, six of Deloitte’s clients have been told their information was ‘impacted’ by the hack.”

In a statement sent to KrebsOnSecurity, Deloitte acknowledged a “cyber incident” involving unauthorized access to its email platform.

“The review of that platform is complete,” the statement reads. “Importantly, the review enabled us to understand precisely what information was at risk and what the hacker actually did and to determine that only very few clients were impacted [and] no disruption has occurred to client businesses, to Deloitte’s ability to continue to serve clients, or to consumers.”

However, information shared by a person with direct knowledge of the incident said the company in fact does not yet know precisely when the intrusion occurred, or for how long the hackers were inside of its systems.

This source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the team investigating the breach focused their attention on a company office in Nashville known as the “Hermitage,” where the breach is thought to have begun.

The source confirmed The Guardian reporting that current estimates put the intrusion sometime in the fall of 2016, and added that investigators still are not certain that they have completely evicted the intruders from the network.

Indeed, it appears that Deloitte has known something was not right for some time. According to this source, the company sent out a “mandatory password reset” email on Oct. 13, 2016 to all Deloitte employees in the United States. The notice stating that employee passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) needed to be changed by Oct. 17, 2016, and that employees that failed to do so would be unable to access email or other Deloitte applications. The message also included advice on how to pick complex passwords:

A screen shot of the mandatory password reset email Deloitte sent to all U.S. employees in Oct. 2016, around the time sources say the breach was first discovered.

A screen shot of the mandatory password reset email Deloitte sent to all U.S. employees in Oct. 2016, around the time sources say the breach was first discovered.

The source told KrebsOnSecurity they were coming forward with information about the breach because, “I think it’s unfortunate how we have handled this and swept it under the rug. It wasn’t a small amount of emails like reported. They accessed the entire email database and all admin accounts. But we never notified our advisory clients or our cyber intel clients.”

“Cyber intel” refers to Deloitte’s Cyber Intelligence Centre, which provides 24/7 “business-focused operational security” to a number of big companies, including CSAA Insurance, FedExInvesco, and St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, among others.

This same source said forensic investigators identified several gigabytes of data being exfiltrated to a server in the United Kingdom. The source further said the hackers had free reign in the network for “a long time” and that the company still does not know exactly how much total data was taken.

In its statement about the incident, Deloitte said it responded by “implementing its comprehensive security protocol and initiating an intensive and thorough review which included mobilizing a team of cyber-security and confidentiality experts inside and outside of Deloitte.” Additionally, the company said it contacted governmental authorities immediately after it became aware of the incident, and that it contacted each of the “very few clients impacted.”

“Deloitte remains deeply committed to ensuring that its cyber-security defenses are best in class, to investing heavily in protecting confidential information and to continually reviewing and enhancing cyber security,” the statement concludes.

Deloitte has not yet responded to follow-up requests for comment.  The Guardian reported that Deloitte notified six affected clients, but Deloitte has not said publicly yet when it notified those customers.

Deloitte has a significant cybersecurity consulting practice globally, wherein it advises many of its clients on how best to secure their systems and sensitive data from hackers. In 2012, Deloitte was ranked #1 globally in security consulting based on revenue.

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a private company based in the United Kingdom. According to the company’s Web site, Deloitte has more than 263,000 employees at member firms delivering services in audit and insurance, tax, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, and related services in more than 150 countries and territories. Revenues for the fiscal year 2017 were $38.8 billion.

The breach at the big-four accountancy comes on the heels of a massive breach at big-three consumer credit bureau Equifax. That incident involved several months of unauthorized access in which intruders stole Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses on 143 million Americans.

This is a developing story. Any updates will be posted as available, and noted with update timestamps.

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/09/source-deloitte-breach-affected-all-company-email-admin-accounts/

Canadian Man Gets 9 Months Detention for Serial Swattings, Bomb Threats

A 19-year-old Canadian man was found guilty of making almost three dozen fraudulent calls to emergency services across North America in 2013 and 2014. The false alarms, two of which targeted this author — involved phoning in phony bomb threats and multiple attempts at “swatting” — a dangerous hoax in which the perpetrator spoofs a call about a hostage situation or other violent crime in progress in the hopes of tricking police into responding at a particular address with deadly force.

Curtis Gervais of Ottawa was 16 when he began his swatting spree, which prompted police departments across the United States and Canada to respond to fake bomb threats and active shooter reports at a number of schools and residences.

Gervais, who taunted swatting targets using the Twitter accounts “ProbablyOnion” and “ProbablyOnion2,” got such a high off of his escapades that he hung out a for-hire shingle on Twitter, offering to swat anyone with the following tweet:

wantswat

Several Twitter users apparently took him up on that offer. On March 9, 2014, @ProbablyOnion started sending me rude and annoying messages on Twitter. A month later (and several weeks after blocking him on Twitter), I received a phone call from the local police department. It was early in the morning on Apr. 10, and the cops wanted to know if everything was okay at our address.

Since this was not the first time someone had called in a fake hostage situation at my home, the call I received came from the police department’s non-emergency number, and they were unsurprised when I told them that the Krebs manor and all of its inhabitants were just fine.

Minutes after my local police department received that fake notification, @ProbablyOnion was bragging on Twitter about swatting me, including me on his public messages: “You have 5 hostages? And you will kill 1 hostage every 6 times and the police have 25 minutes to get you $100k in clear plastic.” Another message read: “Good morning! Just dispatched a swat team to your house, they didn’t even call you this time, hahaha.”

po2-swatbk

I told this user privately that targeting an investigative reporter maybe wasn’t the brightest idea, and that he was likely to wind up in jail soon.  On May 7, @ProbablyOnion tried to get the swat team to visit my home again, and once again without success. “How’s your door?” he tweeted. I replied: “Door’s fine, Curtis. But I’m guessing yours won’t be soon. Nice opsec!”

I was referring to a document that had just been leaked on Pastebin, which identified @ProbablyOnion as a 19-year-old Curtis Gervais from Ontario. @ProbablyOnion laughed it off but didn’t deny the accuracy of the information, except to tweet that the document got his age wrong.

A day later, @ProbablyOnion would post his final tweet before being arrested: “Still awaiting for the horsies to bash down my door,” a taunting reference to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

A Sept. 14, 2017 article in the Ottawa Citizen doesn’t name Gervais because it is against the law in Canada to name individuals charged with or convicted of crimes committed while they are a minor. But the story quite clearly refers to Gervais, who reportedly is now married and expecting a child.

The Citizen says the teenager was arrested by Ottawa police after the U.S. FBI traced his Internet address to his parents’ home. The story notes that “the hacker” and his family have maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and that they plan to appeal the verdict. Gervais’ attorneys reportedly claimed the youth was framed by the hacker collective Anonymous, but the judge in the case was unconvinced.

Apparently, U.S. Ontario Court Justice Mitch Hoffman handed down a lenient sentence in part because of more than 900 hours of volunteer service the accused had performed in recent years. From the story:

Hoffman said that troublesome 16-year-old was hard to reconcile with the 19-year-old, recently married and soon-to-be father who stood in court before him, accompanied in court Thursday by his wife, father and mother.

“He has a bright future ahead of him if he uses his high level of computer skills and high intellect in a pro-social way,” Hoffman said. “If he does not, he has a penitentiary cell waiting for him if he uses his skills to criminal ends.”

According to the article, the teen will serve six months of his nine-month sentence at a youth group home and three months at home “under strict restrictions, including the forfeiture of a home computer used to carry out the cyber pranks.” He also is barred from using Twitter or Skype during his 18-month probation period.

Most people involved in swatting and making bomb threats are young males under the age of 18 — the age when kids seem to have little appreciation for or care about the seriousness of their actions. According to the FBI, each swatting incident costs emergency responders approximately $10,000. Each hoax also unnecessarily endangers the lives of the responders and the public.

In February 2017, another 19-year-old — a man from Long Beach, Calif. named Eric “Cosmo the God” Taylor — was sentenced to three year’s probation for his role in swatting my home in Northern Virginia in 2013. Taylor was among several men involved in making a false report to my local police department at the time about a supposed hostage situation at our house. In response, a heavily-armed police force surrounded my home and put me in handcuffs at gunpoint before the police realized it was all a dangerous hoax.

From https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/09/canadian-man-gets-9-months-detention-for-serial-swattings-bomb-threats/