Oh the perils of being in the public eye. On Monday, many celebrities and politicians found themselves in the cross hairs of an elusive identity hacker – or rather, multiple hackers. These hackers have managed to access very personal information – including social security numbers, information regarding their mortgages, credit card information, the details associated with their car loans and even the banks where they conduct business.
What’s even more interesting is at first glance, it appeared to be limited to nine or ten people in the public; by the time the sun set Monday, the number of these public personalities had grown. Financial guru Donald Trump and scandal-ridden Britney Spears are the two latest who have been hit. In some instances, these celebrities have been hit more than once over the years.
Earlier in the day, however, the list of names that were released were just a few and included Beyonce, Jay-Z, Paris Hilton, Joe Biden, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, Charlie Beck – who is a chief with the Los Angeles Police Department and even Eric Holder.
The FBI has been called in, but there’s already at least one website that’s published this information. For obvious reasons, we won’t be releasing that website’s address. In fact, the information should already be down as both the LAPD and the FBI are taking over the investigation. Note: current FBI Director Robert Mueller was also compromised. Provided the servers aren’t in a foreign land, law enforcement could have it traced back to the originator in a few days.
It’s also not clear if the hackers used any of this information to their advantage. Also, it’s not clear why the hackers opted for this group of people. It should also be noted that the group hasn’t announced it would no longer continue its efforts to hack into this sensitive information, so there exists the chance that they’re just getting started – and if we learned anything from the denial of service attacks against the nation’s biggest banks last year, it’s that these thieves play by their own rules.
The IRS reports that the number of its criminal investigations into identify theft and other similar cyber crimes has nearly tripled, from 276 in fiscal year 2011 to 898 in fiscal year 2012. Worse, some identity thieves will file hundreds or even thousands of returns using tax software. It’s intricate, complete and more than slightly alarming.
It could be that the hackers are looking for far more than the financial details of those compromised. Already they have posted, according to one agent, “unflattering photos” Further it’s been determined that the hackers have found information that is not traditionally found on the internet as part of public record requirements. For instance, divorce records are public and easily found online; the social security numbers of those involved in the legal proceedings are never made public. The information that was posted today is believed to have been in the hackers’ hands for at least a week.
All Information Compromised
The information includes statements of utilities, credit cards, mortgages and even bank statements. Ashton Kutcher’s social security number, previous addresses for Hillary Clinton and Paris Hilton and birthdays and credit cards for most all of the politicians and celebrities are also found on the site. It should also be noted the website could be based in Russia and was registered this past Wednesday. Also, many are wondering if the credit bureaus themselves aren’t the ones with the vulnerabilities since the information posted is exactly what one would find in a credit report. This makes sense considering employment information isn’t posted (of course it’s obvious, but with all the details leaked, the ones that weren’t leaked are ones that you won’t find on any credit reports).
The photos that were uploaded don’t provide any clues either since external hosts are being used and the HTML coding is frankly elementary. Anytime high ranking politicians are in jeopardy, law enforcement pulls out all the stops and it appears to be the case in this situation as well.
Celebrities are often targeted since hackers consider these types of hacks as major wins – after all, many think it’s the hardest to access. This time, though, it might finally occur to many that a celebrity’s information is no safer than anyone else. Couple this with the folks on their payrolls whose only jobs are to protest sensitive information and you can see why some celebrities are non plussed with the possibility of being hacked. It is, after all, great publicity and perfect for keeping them relevant and in the spotlight. And it’s nothing new.
From Busboy to Prison
A few years ago, one of the biggest cases of identity theft against public figures was carried out by a lonesome busboy who was employed at a New York restaurant. Using the Forbes 400 Richest, he was able to glean credit card information from his employer’s network. Martha Steward, Ross Perot, Ted Turner and other sports figures and business personalities were all laid exposed by the hacker. He was able to figure out cell phone numbers, bank accounts and even stocks. Like many thieves, it was his greed that ultimately got him caught. He tried to move a whopping ten million dollars out of the founder of Siebel Systems.
And lest we forget Barry Bonds, whose identity was stolen by Jason Keys. He was an employee of a company that shreds sensitive documents for medical facilities, governments and celebrities. Keys managed to pull information regarding Bonds before it hit the shredder. He then applied for a credit card using the baseball legend’s social security number and name.
What’s likely most frustrating for these public figures is the realization that they did nothing wrong – odds are, they took the necessary precautions in an effort of preventing these types of crimes. In fact, most have staff members who do nothing but protect these people – whether it’s protection from aggressive fans or aggressive cyber thieves, there are always people who handle these problems for the movie stars and elected officials.