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Russian Gang Amasses Over a Billion Internet Passwords - NYTimes.com


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The hacking ring is based in a small city in south central Russia, the region flanked by Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The group includes fewer than a dozen men in their 20s who know one another personally — not just virtually. Their computer servers are thought to be in Russia.

“There is a division of labor within the gang,” Mr. Holden said. “Some are writing the programming, some are stealing the data. It’s like you would imagine a small company; everyone is trying to make a living.”

They began as amateur spammers in 2011, buying stolen databases of personal information on the black market. But in April, the group accelerated its activity. Mr. Holden surmised they partnered with another entity, whom he has not identified, that may have shared hacking techniques and tools.

Since then, the Russian hackers have been able to capture credentials on a mass scale using botnets — networks of zombie computers that have been infected with a computer virus — to do their bidding. Any time an infected user visits a website, criminals command the botnet to test that website to see if it is vulnerable to a well-known hacking technique known as an SQL injection, in which a hacker enters commands that cause a database to produce its contents. If the website proves vulnerable, criminals flag the site and return later to extract the full contents of the database.

“They audited the Internet,” Mr. Holden said. It was not clear, however, how computers were infected with the botnet in the first place.

By July, criminals were able to collect 4.5 billion records — each a user name and password — though many overlapped. After sorting through the data, Hold Security found that 1.2 billion of those records were unique. Because people tend to use multiple emails, they filtered further and found that the criminals’ database included about 542 million unique email addresses.

“Most of these sites are still vulnerable,” said Mr. Holden, emphasizing that the hackers continue to exploit the vulnerability and collect data.

Mr. Holden said his team had begun alerting victimized companies to the breaches, but had been unable to reach every website. He said his firm was also trying to come up with an online tool that would allow individuals to securely test for their information in the database.

Well, that's sobering. The implication is that almost every website in the world has been compromised. 

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