Sunday, August 24, 2008

ID Theves Steals 8 Million Best Westerns Guest Information

AN international criminal gang has pulled off one of the most audacious cyber-crimes ever and stolen the identities of an estimated eight million people in a hacking raid that could ultimately net more than £2.8billion in illegal funds.


A Sunday Herald investigation has discovered that late on Thursday night, a previously unknown Indian hacker successfully breached the IT defences of the Best Western Hotel group's online booking system and sold details of how to access it through an underground network operated by the Russian mafia.

It is a move that has been dubbed the greatest cyber-heist in world history. The attack scooped up the personal details of every single customer that has booked into one of Best Western's 1312 continental hotels since 2007.

Amounting to a complete identity-theft kit, the stolen data includes a range of private information including home addresses, telephone numbers, credit card details and place of employment.

"They've pulled off a masterstroke here," said security expert Jacques Erasmus, an ex-hacker who now works for the computer security firm Prevx. "There are plenty of hacked company databases for sale online but the sheer volume and quality of the information that's been stolen in the Best Western raid makes this particularly rare. The Russian gangs who specialise in this kind of work will have been exploiting the information from the moment it became available late on Thursday night. In the wrong hands, there's enough data there to spark a major European crime wave."

Although the security breach was closed on Friday after Best Western was alerted by the Sunday Herald, experts fear that information seized in the raid is already being used to pursue a range of criminal strategies.

These include: l Armed with the numbers and expiry dates of customers' credit cards, fraudsters are equipped to make multiple high-value purchases in their victims' names before selling on the goods.

l Bundled together with home addresses and other personal details, the stolen data can be used by professional organised criminal gangs which specialise in identity theft to apply for loans, cards and credit agreements in the victims' names.

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