My phone and email have been flooded with questions and interview requests from various media outlets since security consultancy Hold Security dropped the news that a Russian gang has stolen more than a billion email account credentials. Rather than respond to each of these requests in turn, allow me to add a bit of perspective here in the most direct way possible: The Q&A.
Q: Who the heck is Alex Holden?
A: I’ve known Hold Security’s Founder Alex Holden for nearly seven years. Coincidentally, I initially met him in Las Vegas at the Black Hat security convention (where I am now). Alex is a talented and tireless researcher, as well as a forthright and honest guy. He is originally from Ukraine, and speaks/reads Russian and Ukrainian fluently. His research has been central to several of my big scoops over the past year, including the breach at Adobe that exposed tens of millions of customer records.
Q: Is this for real?
A: Alex isn’t keen on disclosing his methods, but I have seen his research and data firsthand and can say it’s definitely for real. Without spilling his secrets or methods, it is clear that he has a first-hand view on the day-to-day activities of some very active organized cybercrime networks and actors.
Q: Ok, but more than a billion credentials? That seems like a lot.
A: For those unfamiliar with the operations of large-scale organized crime syndicates, yes, it does. Unfortunately, there are more than a few successful cybercrooks who are quite good at what they do, and do it full-time. These actors — mostly spammers and malware purveyors (usually both) — focus on acquiring as many email addresses and account credentials as they can. Their favorite methods of gathering this information include SQL injection (exploiting weaknesses in Web sites that can be used to force the site to cough up user data) and abusing stolen credentials to steal even more credentials from victim organizations.
One micro example of this: Last year, I wrote about a botnet that enslaved thousands of hacked computers which disguised itself as a legitimate add-on for Mozilla Firefox and forced infected PCs to scour Web sites for SQL vulnerabilities. Continue reading →