US authorities have taken a keen interest in a recently-arrested Ukrainian man after discovering he had ties to the criminal hackers behind the colossal data breach at US retail giant TJX. Responsible for more than 45.6m stolen accounts, the infiltration has understandably landed on the top of investigators' to-do list.
Their new-found interest is in Maksym Yastremskiy, who was arrested several weeks ago for selling stolen credit card numbers in online forums. It turns out a "significant number" of them belonged to customers whose credentials were siphoned out of TJX's rather porous network.
"It's a significant point in the investigation," said Doug Bem, a public information officer for the US Postal Inspection Service, one of a handful of federal agencies probing the TJX breach. "We don't have any information that suggests this person was the one who committed the attack on TJX, but at some point he did come into possession of the (stolen TJX) card accounts."
Bem wouldn't say how many of the stolen credit card numbers in Yastremskiy's possession belonged to TJX customers, but he said there were "a significant number of accounts that could be traced back to the TJX database."
In all, authorities believe Yastremskiy had "hundreds of thousands, perhaps up to a million" stolen accounts in his possession, which were made available to individuals frequenting the bulletin boards, Bem said.
TJX bears the dubious distinction of being a sucker to the largest credit card heist ever. Over a 17-month period, unknown thieves infiltrated the Massachusetts-based company's network, where they brazenly left encrypted messages for each other and may also have lifted card information in real-time as it was being processed over the network.
A wireless network that employed less protection than many people use on their home systems appears to be the weak link that led to the breach, the Wall Street Journal reported in May. Pretty remarkable for a company with a market value of about $13bn.
Last week TJX said it expects to rack up costs totaling about $256m arising from the debacle. A Forrester analyst has predicted the damage could ultimately be as high as $1bn.
So far, there have been painfully few reported arrests related to the TJX heist. In one case, police in Florida charged a single gang with using hacked TJX card data to steal $8m in transactions at Wal-Mart Stores and other outlets.
So you may understand why US law enforcement agents are suddenly eager to learn as much as they can about Yastremskiy, who according to the Boston Globe, was arrested some 5,400 miles away at a nightclub in the Turkish resort of Kemer.
The US Postal Inspection Service is involved because of its mandate to protect US Mail customers, while the US Secret Service and the US Justice Department have jurisdiction for other reasons.
"It's yet to be determined who is going to be taking the lead," Bem said. "We're confident that other individuals may be brought to light as the investigation continues." ®