Posts Tagged: Experian


26
Aug 20

Confessions of an ID Theft Kingpin, Part I

At the height of his cybercriminal career, the hacker known as “Hieupc” was earning $125,000 a month running a bustling identity theft service that siphoned consumer dossiers from some of the world’s top data brokers. That is, until his greed and ambition played straight into an elaborate snare set by the U.S. Secret Service. Now, after more than seven years in prison Hieupc is back in his home country and hoping to convince other would-be cybercrooks to use their computer skills for good.

Hieu Minh Ngo, in his teens.

For several years beginning around 2010, a lone teenager in Vietnam named Hieu Minh Ngo ran one of the Internet’s most profitable and popular services for selling “fullz,” stolen identity records that included a consumer’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and email and physical address.

Ngo got his treasure trove of consumer data by hacking and social engineering his way into a string of major data brokers. By the time the Secret Service caught up with him in 2013, he’d made over $3 million selling fullz data to identity thieves and organized crime rings operating throughout the United States.

Matt O’Neill is the Secret Service agent who in February 2013 successfully executed a scheme to lure Ngo out of Vietnam and into Guam, where the young hacker was arrested and sent to the mainland U.S. to face prosecution. O’Neill now heads the agency’s Global Investigative Operations Center, which supports investigations into transnational organized criminal groups.

O’Neill said he opened the investigation into Ngo’s identity theft business after reading about it in a 2011 KrebsOnSecurity story, “How Much is Your Identity Worth?” According to O’Neill, what’s remarkable about Ngo is that to this day his name is virtually unknown among the pantheon of infamous convicted cybercriminals, the majority of whom were busted for trafficking in huge quantities of stolen credit cards.

Ngo’s businesses enabled an entire generation of cybercriminals to commit an estimated $1 billion worth of new account fraud, and to sully the credit histories of countless Americans in the process.

“I don’t know of any other cybercriminal who has caused more material financial harm to more Americans than Ngo,” O’Neill told KrebsOnSecurity. “He was selling the personal information on more than 200 million Americans and allowing anyone to buy it for pennies apiece.”

Freshly released from the U.S. prison system and deported back to Vietnam, Ngo is currently finishing up a mandatory three-week COVID-19 quarantine at a government-run facility. He contacted KrebsOnSecurity from inside this facility with the stated aim of telling his little-known story, and to warn others away from following in his footsteps.

BEGINNINGS

Ten years ago, then 19-year-old hacker Ngo was a regular on the Vietnamese-language computer hacking forums. Ngo says he came from a middle-class family that owned an electronics store, and that his parents bought him a computer when he was around 12 years old. From then on out, he was hooked.

In his late teens, he traveled to New Zealand to study English at a university there. By that time, he was already an administrator of several dark web hacker forums, and between his studies he discovered a vulnerability in the school’s network that exposed payment card data.

“I did contact the IT technician there to fix it, but nobody cared so I hacked the whole system,” Ngo recalled. “Then I used the same vulnerability to hack other websites. I was stealing lots of credit cards.”

Ngo said he decided to use the card data to buy concert and event tickets from Ticketmaster, and then sell the tickets at a New Zealand auction site called TradeMe. The university later learned of the intrusion and Ngo’s role in it, and the Auckland police got involved. Ngo’s travel visa was not renewed after his first semester ended, and in retribution he attacked the university’s site, shutting it down for at least two days.

Ngo said he started taking classes again back in Vietnam, but soon found he was spending most of his time on cybercrime forums.

“I went from hacking for fun to hacking for profits when I saw how easy it was to make money stealing customer databases,” Ngo said. “I was hanging out with some of my friends from the underground forums and we talked about planning a new criminal activity.”

“My friends said doing credit cards and bank information is very dangerous, so I started thinking about selling identities,” Ngo continued. “At first I thought well, it’s just information, maybe it’s not that bad because it’s not related to bank accounts directly. But I was wrong, and the money I started making very fast just blinded me to a lot of things.”

MICROBILT

His first big target was a consumer credit reporting company in New Jersey called MicroBilt.

“I was hacking into their platform and stealing their customer database so I could use their customer logins to access their [consumer] databases,” Ngo said. “I was in their systems for almost a year without them knowing.”

Very soon after gaining access to MicroBilt, Ngo says, he stood up Superget[.]info, a website that advertised the sale of individual consumer records. Ngo said initially his service was quite manual, requiring customers to request specific states or consumers they wanted information on, and he would conduct the lookups by hand.

Ngo’s former identity theft service, superget[.]info

“I was trying to get more records at once, but the speed of our Internet in Vietnam then was very slow,” Ngo recalled. “I couldn’t download it because the database was so huge. So I just manually search for whoever need identities.”

But Ngo would soon work out how to use more powerful servers in the United States to automate the collection of larger amounts of consumer data from MicroBilt’s systems, and from other data brokers. As I wrote of Ngo’s service back in November 2011:

“Superget lets users search for specific individuals by name, city, and state. Each “credit” costs USD$1, and a successful hit on a Social Security number or date of birth costs 3 credits each. The more credits you buy, the cheaper the searches are per credit: Six credits cost $4.99; 35 credits cost $20.99, and $100.99 buys you 230 credits. Customers with special needs can avail themselves of the “reseller plan,” which promises 1,500 credits for $500.99, and 3,500 credits for $1000.99.

“Our Databases are updated EVERY DAY,” the site’s owner enthuses. “About 99% nearly 100% US people could be found, more than any sites on the internet now.”

Ngo’s intrusion into MicroBilt eventually was detected, and the company kicked him out of their systems. But he says he got back in using another vulnerability.

“I was hacking them and it was back and forth for months,” Ngo said. “They would discover [my accounts] and fix it, and I would discover a new vulnerability and hack them again.”

COURT (AD)VENTURES, AND EXPERIAN

This game of cat and mouse continued until Ngo found a much more reliable and stable source of consumer data: A U.S. based company called Court Ventures, which aggregated public records from court documents. Ngo wasn’t interested in the data collected by Court Ventures, but rather in its data sharing agreement with a third-party data broker called U.S. Info Search, which had access to far more sensitive consumer records.

Using forged documents and more than a few lies, Ngo was able to convince Court Ventures that he was a private investigator based in the United States.

“At first [when] I sign up they asked for some documents to verify,” Ngo said. “So I just used some skill about social engineering and went through the security check.”

Then, in March 2012, something even more remarkable happened: Court Ventures was purchased by Experian, one of the big three major consumer credit bureaus in the United States. And for nine months after the acquisition, Ngo was able to maintain his access.

“After that, the database was under control by Experian,” he said. “I was paying Experian good money, thousands of dollars a month.”

Whether anyone at Experian ever performed due diligence on the accounts grandfathered in from Court Ventures is unclear. But it wouldn’t have taken a rocket surgeon to figure out that this particular customer was up to something fishy.

For one thing, Ngo paid the monthly invoices for his customers’ data requests using wire transfers from a multitude of banks around the world, but mostly from new accounts at financial institutions in China, Malaysia and Singapore.

O’Neill said Ngo’s identity theft website generated tens of thousands of queries each month. For example, the first invoice Court Ventures sent Ngo in December 2010 was for 60,000 queries. By the time Experian acquired the company, Ngo’s service had attracted more than 1,400 regular customers, and was averaging 160,000 monthly queries.

More importantly, Ngo’s profit margins were enormous.

“His service was quite the racket,” he said. “Court Ventures charged him 14 cents per lookup, but he charged his customers about $1 for each query.”

By this time, O’Neill and his fellow Secret Service agents had served dozens of subpoenas tied to Ngo’s identity theft service, including one that granted them access to the email account he used to communicate with customers and administer his site. The agents discovered several emails from Ngo instructing an accomplice to pay Experian using wire transfers from different Asian banks. Continue reading →


12
Aug 20

Why & Where You Should Plant Your Flag

Several stories here have highlighted the importance of creating accounts online tied to your various identity, financial and communications services before identity thieves do it for you. This post examines some of the key places where everyone should plant their virtual flags.

As KrebsOnSecurity observed back in 2018, many people — particularly older folks — proudly declare they avoid using the Web to manage various accounts tied to their personal and financial data — including everything from utilities and mobile phones to retirement benefits and online banking services. From that story:

“The reasoning behind this strategy is as simple as it is alluring: What’s not put online can’t be hacked. But increasingly, adherents to this mantra are finding out the hard way that if you don’t plant your flag online, fraudsters and identity thieves may do it for you.”

“The crux of the problem is that while most types of customer accounts these days can be managed online, the process of tying one’s account number to a specific email address and/or mobile device typically involves supplying personal data that can easily be found or purchased online — such as Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses.”

In short, although you may not be required to create online accounts to manage your affairs at your ISP, the U.S. Postal Service, the credit bureaus or the Social Security Administration, it’s a good idea to do so for several reasons.

Most importantly, the majority of the entities I’ll discuss here allow just one registrant per person/customer. Thus, even if you have no intention of using that account, establishing one will be far easier than trying to dislodge an impostor who gets there first using your identity data and an email address they control.

Also, the cost of planting your flag is virtually nil apart from your investment of time. In contrast, failing to plant one’s flag can allow ne’er-do-wells to create a great deal of mischief for you, whether it be misdirecting your service or benefits elsewhere, or canceling them altogether.

Before we dive into the list, a couple of important caveats. Adding multi-factor authentication (MFA) at these various providers (where available) and/or establishing a customer-specific personal identification number (PIN) also can help secure online access. For those who can’t be convinced to use a password manager, even writing down all of the account details and passwords on a slip of paper can be helpful, provided the document is secured in a safe place.

Perhaps the most important place to enable MFA is with your email accounts. Armed with access to your inbox, thieves can then reset the password for any other service or account that is tied to that email address.

People who don’t take advantage of these added safeguards may find it far more difficult to regain access when their account gets hacked, because increasingly thieves will enable multi-factor options and tie the account to a device they control.

Secondly, guard the security of your mobile phone account as best you can (doing so might just save your life). The passwords for countless online services can be reset merely by entering a one-time code sent via text message to the phone number on file for the customer’s account.

And thanks to the increasing prevalence of a crime known as SIM swapping, thieves may be able to upend your personal and financial life simply by tricking someone at your mobile service provider into diverting your calls and texts to a device they control.

Most mobile providers offer customers the option of placing a PIN or secret passphrase on their accounts to lessen the likelihood of such attacks succeeding, but these protections also usually fail when the attackers are social engineering some $12-an-hour employee at a mobile phone store.

Your best option is to reduce your overall reliance on your phone number for added authentication at any online service. Many sites now offer MFA options that are app-based and not tied to your mobile service, and this is your best option for MFA wherever possible. Continue reading →


8
Mar 19

MyEquifax.com Bypasses Credit Freeze PIN

Most people who have frozen their credit files with Equifax have been issued a numeric Personal Identification Number (PIN) which is supposed to be required before a freeze can be lifted or thawed. Unfortunately, if you don’t already have an account at the credit bureau’s new myEquifax portal, it may be simple for identity thieves to lift an existing credit freeze at Equifax and bypass the PIN armed with little more than your, name, Social Security number and birthday.

Consumers in every U.S. state can now freeze their credit files for free with Equifax and two other major bureaus (Trans Union and Experian). A freeze makes it much harder for identity thieves to open new lines of credit in your name.

In the wake of Equifax’s epic 2017 data breach impacting some 148 million Americans, many people did freeze their credit files at the big three in response. But Equifax has changed a few things since then.

Seeking to manage my own credit freeze at equifax.com as I’d done in years past, I was steered toward creating an account at myequifax.com, which I was shocked to find I did not previously possess.

Getting an account at myequifax.com was easy. In fact, it was too easy. The portal asked me for an email address and suggested a longish, randomized password, which I accepted. I chose an old email address that I knew wasn’t directly tied to my real-life identity.

The next page asked me enter my SSN and date of birth, and to share a phone number (sharing was optional, so I didn’t). SSN and DOB data is widely available for sale in the cybercrime underground on almost all U.S. citizens. This has been the reality for years, and was so well before Equifax announced its big 2017 breach.

myEquifax said it couldn’t verify that my email address belonged to the Brian Krebs at that SSN and DOB. It then asked a series of four security questions — so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions designed to see if I could recall bits about my recent financial history.

In general, the data being asked about in these KBA quizzes is culled from public records, meaning that this information likely is publicly available in some form — either digitally or in-person. Indeed, I have long assailed the KBA industry as creating a false sense of security that is easily bypassed by fraudsters.

One potential problem with relying on KBA questions to authenticate consumers online is that so much of the information needed to successfully guess the answers to those multiple-choice questions is now indexed or exposed by search engines, social networks and third-party services online — both criminal and commercial.

The first three multiple-guess questions myEquifax asked were about loans or debts that I have never owed. Thus, the answer to the first three KBA questions asked was, “none of the above.” The final question asked for the name of our last mortgage company. Again, information that is not hard to find.

Satisfied with my answers, Equifax informed me that yes indeed I was Brian Krebs and that I could now manage my existing freeze with the company. After requesting a thaw, I was brought to a vintage Equifax page that looked nothing like myEquifax’s sunnier new online plumage.

Equifax’s site says it will require users requesting changes to an existing credit freeze to have access to their freeze PIN and be ready to supply it. But Equifax never actually asks for the PIN.

This page informed me that if I previously secured a freeze of my credit file with Equifax and been given a PIN needed to undo that status in any way, that I should be ready to provide said information if I was requesting changes via phone or email. 

In other words, credit freezes and thaws requested via myEquifax don’t require users to supply any pre-existing PIN.

Fine, I said. Let’s do this.

myEquifax then asked for the date range requested to thaw my credit freeze. Submit.

“We’ve successfully processed your security freeze request!,” the site declared.

This also was exclaimed in an email to the random old address I’d used at myEquifax, although the site never once made any attempt to validate that I had access to this inbox, something that could be done by simply sending a confirmation link that needs to be clicked to activate the account.

In addition, I noticed Equifax added my old mobile number to my account, even though I never supplied this information and was not using this phone when I created the myEquifax account.

Successfully unfreezing (temporarily thawing) my credit freeze did not require me to ever supply my previously-issued freeze PIN from Equifax. Anyone who knew the vaguest and most knowable details about me could have done the same.

myEquifax.com does not currently seek to verify the account by requesting confirmation via a phone call or text to the phone number associated with the account (also, recall that even providing a phone number was optional).

Happily, I did discover then when I used a different computer and Internet address to try to open up another account under my name, date of birth and SSN, it informed me that a profile already existed for this information. This suggests that signing up at myEquifax is probably a good idea, given that the alternative is more risky.

It was way too easy to create my account, but I’m not saying everyone will be able to create one online. In testing with several readers over the past 24 hours, myEquifax seems to be returning a lot more error pages at the KBA stage of the process now, prompting people to try again later or make a request via email or phone.

Equifax spokesperson Nancy Bistritz-Balkan said not requiring a PIN for people with existing freezes was by design.

“With myEquifax, we created an online experience that enables consumers to securely and conveniently manage security freezes and fraud alerts,” Bistritz-Balkan said..

“We deployed an experience that embraces both security standards (using a multi-factor and layered approach to verify the consumer’s identity) and reflects specific consumer feedback on managing security freezes and fraud alerts online without the use of a PIN,” she continued. “The account set-up process, which involves the creation of a username and password, relies on both user inputs and other factors to securely establish, verify, and authenticate that the consumer’s identity is connected to the consumer every time.” Continue reading →


12
Dec 18

Scanning for Flaws, Scoring for Security

Is it fair to judge an organization’s information security posture simply by looking at its Internet-facing assets for weaknesses commonly sought after and exploited by attackers, such as outdated software or accidentally exposed data and devices? Fair or not, a number of nascent efforts are using just such an approach to derive security scores for companies and entire industries. What’s remarkable is how many organizations don’t make an effort to view their public online assets as the rest of the world sees them — until it’s too late.

Image: US Chamber of Commerce.

For years, potential creditors have judged the relative risk of extending credit to consumers based in part on the applicant’s credit score — the most widely used being the score developed by FICO, previously known as Fair Isaac Corporation. Earlier this year, FICO began touting its Cyber Risk Score (PDF), which seeks to measure an organization’s chances of experiencing a data breach in the next 12 months, based on a variety of measurements tied to the company’s public-facing online assets.

In October, FICO teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to evaluate more than 2,500 U.S. companies with the Cyber Risk Score, and then invited these companies to sign up and see how their score compares with that of other organizations in their industry. The stated use cases for the Cyber Risk Score include the potential for cyber insurance pricing and underwriting, and evaluating supply chain risk (i.e., the security posture of vendor partners).

The company-specific scores are supposed to be made available only to vetted people at the organization who go through FICO’s signup process. But in a marketing email sent to FICO members on Tuesday advertising its new benchmarking feature, FICO accidentally exposed the FICO Cyber Risk Score of energy giant ExxonMobil.

The marketing email was quickly recalled and reissued in a redacted version, but it seems ExxonMobil’s score of 587 puts it in the “elevated” risk category and somewhat below the mean score among large companies in the Energy and Utilities sector, which was 637. The October analysis by the Chamber and FICO gives U.S. businesses an overall score of 687 on a scale of 300-850.

Data accidentally released by FICO about the Cyber Risk Score for ExxonMobil.

How useful is such a score? Mike Lloyd, chief technology officer at RedSeal, was quoted as saying a score “taken from the outside looking in is similar to rating the fire risk to a building based on a photograph from across the street.”

“You can, of course, establish some important things about the quality of a building from a photograph, but it’s no substitute for really being able to inspect it from the inside,” Lloyd told Dark Reading regarding the Chamber/FICO announcement in October.

Naturally, combining external scans with internal vulnerability probes and penetration testing engagements can provide organizations with a much more holistic picture of their security posture. But when a major company makes public, repeated and prolonged external security foibles, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that perhaps it isn’t looking too closely at its internal security either. Continue reading →


21
Sep 18

Credit Freezes are Free: Let the Ice Age Begin

It is now free in every U.S. state to freeze and unfreeze your credit file and that of your dependents, a process that blocks identity thieves and others from looking at private details in your consumer credit history. If you’ve been holding out because you’re not particularly worried about ID theft, here’s another reason to reconsider: The credit bureaus profit from selling copies of your file to others, so freezing your file also lets you deny these dinosaurs a valuable revenue stream.

Enacted in May 2018, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act rolls back some of the restrictions placed on banks in the wake of the Great Recession of the last decade. But it also includes a silver lining. Previously, states allowed the bureaus to charge a confusing range of fees for placing, temporarily thawing or lifting a credit freeze. Today, those fees no longer exist.

A security freeze essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand. With a freeze in place on your credit file, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name all they want, but they will not succeed in getting new lines of credit in your name because few if any creditors will extend that credit without first being able to gauge how risky it is to loan to you (i.e., view your credit file).

And because each credit inquiry caused by a creditor has the potential to lower your credit score, the freeze also helps protect your score, which is what most lenders use to decide whether to grant you credit when you truly do want it and apply for it.

To file a freeze, consumers must contact each of the three major credit bureaus online, by phone or by mail. Here’s the updated contact information for the big three:

Online: Equifax Freeze Page
By phone: 800-685-1111
By Mail: Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5788

Online: Experian
By phone: 888-397-3742
By Mail: Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Online: TransUnion
By Phone: 888-909-8872
By Mail: TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016

Spouses may request freezes for each other by phone as long as they pass authentication.

The new law also makes it free to place, thaw and lift freezes for dependents under the age of 16, or for incapacitated adult family members. However, this process is not currently available online or by phone, as it requires parents/guardians to submit written documentation (“sufficient proof of authority”), such as a copy of a birth certificate and copy of a Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration, or — in the case of an incapacitated family member — proof of power of attorney.

In addition, the law requires the big three bureaus to offer free electronic credit monitoring services to all active duty military personnel. It also changes the rules for “fraud alerts,” which currently are free but only last for 90 days. With a fraud alert on your credit file, lenders or service providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval — by phone or whatever other method you specify when you apply for the fraud alert.

Another important change: Fraud alerts now last for one year (previously they lasted just 90 days) but consumers can renew them each year. Bear in mind, however, that while lenders and service providers are supposed to seek and obtain your approval before granting credit in your name if you have a fraud alert on your file, they’re not legally required to do this. Continue reading →


10
Sep 18

In a Few Days, Credit Freezes Will Be Fee-Free

Later this month, all of the three major consumer credit bureaus will be required to offer free credit freezes to all Americans and their dependents. Maybe you’ve been holding off freezing your credit file because your home state currently charges a fee for placing or thawing a credit freeze, or because you believe it’s just not worth the hassle. If that accurately describes your views on the matter, this post may well change your mind.

A credit freeze — also known as a “security freeze” — restricts access to your credit file, making it far more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

Currently, many states allow the big three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to charge a fee for placing or lifting a security freeze. But thanks to a federal law enacted earlier this year, after Sept. 21, 2018 it will be free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file and those of your children or dependents throughout the United States.

KrebsOnSecurity has for many years urged readers to freeze their files with the big three bureaus, as well as with a distant fourth — Innovis — and the NCTUE, an Equifax-operated credit checking clearinghouse relied upon by most of the major mobile phone providers.

There are dozens of private companies that specialize in providing consumer credit reports and scores to specific industries, including real estate brokers, landlords, insurers, debt buyers, employers, banks, casinos and retail stores. A handy PDF produced earlier this year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) lists all of the known entities that maintain, sell or share credit data on U.S. citizens.

The CFPB’s document includes links to Web sites for 46 different consumer credit reporting entities, along with information about your legal rights to obtain data in your reports and dispute suspected inaccuracies with the companies as needed. My guess is the vast majority of Americans have never heard of most of these companies.

Via numerous front-end Web sites, each of these mini credit bureaus serve thousands or tens of thousands of people who work in the above mentioned industries and who have the ability to pull credit and other personal data on Americans. In many cases, online access to look up data through these companies is secured by nothing more than a username and password that can be stolen or phished by cybercrooks and abused to pull privileged information on consumers.

In other cases, it’s trivial for anyone to sign up for these services. For example, how do companies that provide background screening and credit report data to landlords decide who can sign up as a landlord? Answer: Anyone can be a landlord (or pretend to be one).

SCORE ONE FOR FREEZES

The truly scary part? Access to some of these credit lookup services is supposed to be secured behind a login page, but often isn’t. Consider the service pictured below, which for $44 will let anyone look up the credit score of any American who hasn’t already frozen their credit files with the big three. Worse yet, you don’t even need to have accurate information on a target — such as their Social Security number or current address.

KrebsOnSecurity was made aware of this particular portal by Alex Holden, CEO of Milwaukee, Wisc.-based cybersecurity firm Hold Security LLC [full disclosure: This author is listed as an adviser to Hold Security, however this is and always has been a volunteer role for which I have not been compensated].

Holden’s wife Lisa is a mortgage broker, and as such she has access to a more full-featured version of the above-pictured consumer data lookup service (among others) for the purposes of helping clients determine a range of mortgage rates available. Mrs. Holden said the version of this service that she has access to will return accurate, current and complete credit file information on consumers even if one enters a made-up SSN and old address on an individual who hasn’t yet frozen their credit files with the big three.

“I’ve noticed in the past when I do a hard pull on someone’s credit report and the buyer gave me the wrong SSN or transposed some digits, not only will these services give me their credit report and full account history, it also tells you what their correct SSN is,” Mrs. Holden said.

With Mr. Holden’s permission, I gave the site pictured above an old street address for him plus a made-up SSN, and provided my credit card number to pay for the report. The document generated by that request said TransUnion and Experian were unable to look up his credit score with the information provided. However, Equifax not only provided his current credit score, it helpfully corrected the false data I entered for Holden, providing the last four digits of his real SSN and current address.

“We assume our credit report is keyed off of our SSN or something unique about ourselves,” Mrs. Holden said. “But it’s really keyed off your White Pages information, meaning anyone can get your credit report if they are in the know.”

I was pleased to find that I was unable to pull my own credit score through this exposed online service, although the site still charged me $44. The report produced simply said the consumer in question had requested that access to this information be restricted. But the real reason was simply that I’ve had my credit file frozen for years now.

Many media outlets are publishing stories this week about the one-year anniversary of the breach at Equifax that exposed the personal and financial data on more than 147 million people. But it’s important for everyone to remember that as bad as the Equifax breach was (and it was a total dumpster fire all around), most of the consumer data exposed in the breach has been for sale in the cybercrime underground for many years on a majority of Americans — including access to consumer credit reports. If anything, the Equifax breach may have simply helped ID thieves refresh some of those criminal data stores.

It costs $35 worth of bitcoin through this cybercrime service to pull someone’s credit file from the three major credit bureaus. There are many services just like this one, which almost certainly abuse hacked accounts from various industries that have “legitimate” access to consumer credit reports.

Continue reading →


19
Jul 18

Human Resources Firm ComplyRight Breached

Cloud-based human resources company ComplyRight said this week that a security breach of its Web site may have jeopardized sensitive consumer information — including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Social Security numbers — from tax forms submitted by the company’s thousands of clients on behalf of employees.

Pompano Beach, Fla-based ComplyRight began mailing breach notification letters to affected consumers late last week, but the form letters are extremely vague about the scope and cause of the breach. Indeed, many readers who received these letters wrote to KrebsOnSecurity asking for more information, as the company hadn’t yet published any details about the breach on its Web site. Also, most of those folks said they’d never heard of ComplyRight and could not remember ever doing business with a company by that name.

Neither ComplyRight nor its parent company Taylor Corp. responded to multiple requests for comment this past week. But on Wednesday evening, ComplyRight posted additional facts about the incident on its site, saying a recently completed investigation suggests that fewer than 10 percent of individuals with tax forms prepared on the ComplyRight platform were impacted.

According to ComplyRight’s Web site, some 76,000 organizations — many of them small businesses — use its services to prepare tax forms such as 1099s and W2s on behalf of their employees and/or contractors. While the company didn’t explicitly say which of its cloud services was impacted by the breach, the Web site which handles its tax preparation business is efile4biz.com.

ComplyRight says it learned of the breach on May 22, 2018, and that the “unauthorized access” to its site persisted between April 20, 2018 and May 22, 2018. Continue reading →


9
May 18

Think You’ve Got Your Credit Freezes Covered? Think Again.

I spent a few days last week speaking at and attending a conference on responding to identity theft. The forum was held in Florida, one of the major epicenters for identity fraud complaints in United States. One gripe I heard from several presenters was that identity thieves increasingly are finding ways to open new mobile phone accounts in the names of people who have already frozen their credit files with the big-three credit bureaus. Here’s a look at what may be going on, and how you can protect yourself.

Carrie Kerskie is director of the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University in Naples. A big part of her job is helping local residents respond to identity theft and fraud complaints. Kerskie said she’s had multiple victims in her area recently complain of having cell phone accounts opened in their names even though they had already frozen their credit files at the big three credit bureausEquifax, Experian and Trans Union (as well as distant fourth bureau Innovis).

The freeze process is designed so that a creditor should not be able to see your credit file unless you unfreeze the account. A credit freeze blocks potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, making it far more difficult for identity thieves to apply for new lines of credit in your name.

But Kerskie’s investigation revealed that the mobile phone merchants weren’t asking any of the four credit bureaus mentioned above. Rather, the mobile providers were making credit queries with the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), or nctue.com.

Source: nctue.com

“We’re finding that a lot of phone carriers — even some of the larger ones — are relying on NCTUE for credit checks,” Kerskie said. “It’s mainly phone carriers, but utilities, power, water, cable, any of those, they’re all starting to use this more.”

The NCTUE is a consumer reporting agency founded by AT&T in 1997 that maintains data such as payment and account history, reported by telecommunication, pay TV and utility service providers that are members of NCTUE.

Who are the NCTUE’s members? If you call the 800-number that NCTUE makes available to get a free copy of your NCTUE credit report, the option for “more information” about the organization says there are four “exchanges” that feed into the NCTUE’s system: the NCTUE itself; something called “Centralized Credit Check Systems“; the New York Data Exchange; and the California Utility Exchange.

According to a partner solutions page at Verizon, the New York Data Exchange is a not-for-profit entity created in 1996 that provides participating exchange carriers with access to local telecommunications service arrears (accounts that are unpaid) and final account information on residential end user accounts.

The NYDE is operated by Equifax Credit Information Services Inc. (yes, that Equifax). Verizon is one of many telecom providers that use the NYDE (and recall that AT&T was the founder of NCTUE).

The California Utility Exchange collects customer payment data from dozens of local utilities in the state, and also is operated by Equifax (Equifax Information Services LLC).

Google has virtually no useful information available about an entity called Centralized Credit Check Systems. It’s possible it no longer exists. If anyone finds differently, please leave a note in the comments section.

When I did some more digging on the NCTUE, I discovered…wait for it…Equifax also is the sole contractor that manages the NCTUE database. The entity’s site is also hosted out of Equifax’s servers. Equifax’s current contract to provide this service expires in 2020, according to a press release posted in 2015 by Equifax. Continue reading →


11
Mar 18

Checked Your Credit Since the Equifax Hack?

A recent consumer survey suggests that half of all Americans still haven’t checked their credit report since the Equifax breach last year exposed the Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and other personal information on nearly 150 million people. If you’re in that fifty percent, please make an effort to remedy that soon.

Credit reports from the three major bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — can be obtained online for free at annualcreditreport.com — the only Web site mandated by Congress to serve each American a free credit report every year.

Annualcreditreport.com is run by a Florida-based company, but its data is supplied by the major credit bureaus, which struggled mightily to meet consumer demand for free credit reports in the immediate aftermath of the Equifax breach. Personally, I was unable to order a credit report for either me or my wife even two weeks after the Equifax breach went public: The site just kept returning errors and telling us to request the reports in writing via the U.S. Mail.

Based on thousands of comments left here in the days following the Equifax breach disclosure, I suspect many readers experienced the same but forgot to come back and try again. If this describes you, please take a moment this week to order your report(s) (and perhaps your spouse’s) and see if anything looks amiss. If you spot an error or something suspicious, contact the bureau that produced the report to correct the record immediately.

Of course, keeping on top of your credit report requires discipline, and if you’re not taking advantage of all three free reports each year you need to get a plan. My strategy is to put a reminder on our calendar to order a new report every four months or so, each time from a different credit bureau. Continue reading →


24
Sep 17

Equifax or Equiphish?

More than a week after it said most people would be eligible to enroll in a free year of its TrustedID identity theft monitoring service, big three consumer credit bureau Equifax has begun sending out email notifications to people who were able to take the company up on its offer. But in yet another security stumble, the company appears to be training recipients to fall for phishing scams.

Some people who signed up for the service after Equifax announced Sept. 7 that it had lost control over Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other sensitive data on 143 million Americans are still waiting for the promised notice from Equifax. But as I recently noted on Twitter, other folks have received emails from Equifax over the past few days, and the messages do not exactly come across as having emanated from a company that cares much about trying to regain the public’s trust.

Here’s a redacted example of an email Equifax sent out to one recipient recently:

equifaxcare

As we can see, the email purports to have been sent from trustedid.com, a domain that Equifax has owned for almost four years. However, Equifax apparently decided it was time for a new — and perhaps snazzier — name: trustedidpremier.com.

The above-pictured message says it was sent from one domain, and then asks the recipient to respond by clicking on a link to a completely different (but confusingly similar) domain.

My guess is the reason Equifax registered trustedidpremier.com was to help people concerned about the breach to see whether they were one of the 143 million people affected (for more on how that worked out for them, see Equifax Breach Response Turns Dumpster Fire). I’d further surmise that Equifax was expecting (and received) so much interest in the service as a result of the breach that all the traffic from the wannabe customers might swamp the trustedid.com site and ruin things for the people who were already signed up for the service before Equifax announced the breach on Sept. 7.

The problem with this dual-domain approach is that the domain trustedidpremier.com is only a few weeks old, so it had very little time to establish itself as a legitimate domain. As a result, in the first few hours after Equifax disclosed the breach the domain was actually flagged as a phishing site by multiple browsers because it was brand new and looked about as professionally designed as a phishing site.

What’s more, there is nothing tying the domain registration records for trustedidpremier.com to Equifax: The domain is registered to a WHOIS privacy service, which masks information about who really owns the domain (again, not exactly something you might expect from an identity monitoring site). Anyone looking for assurances that the site perhaps was hosted on Internet address space controlled by and assigned to Equifax would also be disappointed: The site is hosted at Amazon.

While there’s nothing wrong with that exactly, one might reasonably ask: Why didn’t Equifax just send the email from Equifax.com and host the ID theft monitoring service there as well? Wouldn’t that have considerably lessened any suspicion that this missive might be a phishing attempt?

Perhaps, but you see while TrustedID is technically owned by Equifax Inc., its services are separate from Equifax and its terms of service are different from those provided by Equifax (almost certainly to separate Equifax from any consumer liability associated with its monitoring service).

THE BACKSTORY

What’s super-interesting about trustedid.com is that it didn’t always belong to Equifax. According to the site’s Wikipedia page, TrustedID Inc. was purchased by Equifax in 2013, but it was founded in 2004 as an identity protection company which offered a service that let consumers automatically “freeze” their credit file at the major bureaus. A freeze prevents Equifax and the other major credit bureaus from selling an individual’s credit data without first getting consumer consent.

By 2006, some 17 states offered consumers the ability to freeze their credit files, and the credit bureaus were starting to see the freeze as an existential threat to their businesses (in which they make slightly more than a dollar each time a potential creditor — or ID thief — asks to peek at your credit file).

Other identity monitoring firms — such as LifeLock — were by then offering services that automated the placement of identity fraud controls — such as the “fraud alert,” a free service that consumers can request to block creditors from viewing their credit files.

[Author’s note: Fraud alerts only last for 90 days, although you can renew them as often as you like. More importantly, while lenders and service providers are supposed to seek and obtain your approval before granting credit in your name if you have a fraud alert on your file, they are not legally required to do this — and very often don’t.]

Anyway, the era of identity monitoring services automating things like fraud alerts and freezes on behalf of consumers effectively died after a landmark lawsuit filed by big-three bureau Experian (which has its own storied history of data breaches). In 2008, Experian sued LifeLock, arguing its practice of automating fraud alerts violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

In 2009, a court found in favor of Experian, and that decision effectively killed such services — mainly because none of the banks wanted to distribute them and sell them as a service anymore. Continue reading →