Hackers crack Texan bank, Experian credit records come flooding out

Names, numbers, finances, EVERYTHING... and they weren't even customers


Hackers managed to get login credentials for Experian's credit scoring reports after they broke into the systems of Abilene Telco Federal Credit Union last year, it has emerged.

Crooks gained access to the west Texan bank's systems after hacking into an employee's computer. The September 2011 breach allowed the hackers to get their hands on login credentials for the bank's account with Experian, exposing the details of millions to potential snooping in the process.

A subsequent audit revealed that the attackers had used the compromised account to download credit reports on 847 people, obtaining Social Security numbers, dates of birth and financial data on individuals across the US who had never held an account with the small Texan bank.

The breach is one of 86 incidents that have exposed data stored by credit reference agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to snooping since 2006. Hackers have obtained this information not by going after the credit reference agencies directly but by targeting banks, auto-loan firms, data brokers, police departments and other organisations that have access to the sensitive information, which can be used by identity thieves to establish lines of credit under false names.

In total, more than 17,000 credit reports have been exposed by breaches at third-party firms over the last six years, according to an investigation by news agency Bloomberg. The figures come from breach notification letters unearthed by a privacy advocate who calls themselves “Dissent Doe”, and wishes to preserve their anonymity.

Most of the exposed records (15,500 credit reports) came as a result of 80 breaches against Experian’s database. Equifax was hit four times, resulting in the exposure of more than 1,200 reports. TransUnion’s was pwned twice, exposing 500 reports to unauthorised snooping, according to the DataLossDB.org website. The incidents all involved the theft of passwords and usernames from the credit bureaus' customers. Dissent Doe is campaigning for a national register of breach reports.

Experian blamed malware attacks against its customers for a majority of the breaches.

“We continue to invest in the security systems we have in place to protect our clients and consumers,” an Experian spokesman told Bloomberg. “Of course, the first line of defence lies with end users who are obligated to manage and protect their credentials, which in all these instances were compromised through malware that infected their hardware and other illegal means.”

Jay Foley, a partner with the consulting firm ID Theft Info Source, told Bloomberg that the volume of seriousness of the breaches raises concerns that credit bureau haven't invested enough in anti-fraud technologies capable of drawing attention to suspicious behaviour by their clients.

The wide range of data held by credit reference bureaus has become the focus of a Congressional investigation over recent weeks. ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022