Experts: Target hackers will be tough to find

NEW YORK (AP) — The hackers behind the recent Target data breach are likely a world away and nearly impossible to find.

That’s the consensus among outside cybercrime experts as Target, the Secret Service and the FBI continue their investigation of the pre-Christmas data heist in which hackers stole about 40 million debit and credit card numbers and also took personal information — including email addresses, phone numbers, names and home addresses — for another 70 million people.

In the aftermath of the breach, millions of Americans have been left to wonder what has become of their precious personal information. The information can be used in a variety of nefarious ways. Criminals can attempt to use the credit card numbers and place charges on the original owners’ accounts or they can use other pieces of personal information to steal people’s identities and apply for new lines of credit.

In cases where such a massive amount of information is stolen, criminals generally divide the data into chunks and sell the parcels through online black markets, says Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser for the computer security firm Sophos.

In many ways, those markets behave much like any legitimate marketplace ruled by the forces of supply and demand. Groups of higher-end cards are worth significantly more than those with lower credit limits and so are cards tied to additional personal information, such as names, addresses and zip codes, which make them easier to use.

After thieves purchase the numbers, they can encode the data onto new, blank cards with an inexpensive, easy-to-use gadget. Or they can skip the card-writing process and simply use the card numbers online.

Crooks often have the option to buy cards last used in their area. That way, Wisniewski says, the cards attract less attention from the banks that issued them.

The underground markets where hackers sell the bundles of stolen numbers always have a steady supply of card numbers on sale and their locations are always moving as they try to elude law enforcement, says Daniel Ingevaldson, chief technology officer at Easy Solutions Inc., a firm that sells anti-fraud products and tracks the activity of the online black markets. A big jump in inventory usually indicates there’s been a breach of a major retailer. That’s what Ingevaldson’s firm saw in the cases of both Target and Neiman Marcus, which also recently reported a breach.

Target scales back health coverage

NEW YORK (AP) — Target Corp. says it will no longer be offering health care coverage for its part-time workers.

The discounter is citing new options now available through health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Target said the majority of its part-time workers who have been eligible for its health care insurance coverage don’t enroll. In fact, less than 10 percent of its total employees of 361,000 take advantage of the part-time plan. It said it will stop covering the part-time workers beginning April 1.

Other large employers including UPS are scaling back health coverage by dropping spouses from their employee plans if they are able to get insurance through another employer.

“Health care reform is transforming the benefits landscape and affecting how all employers, including Target, administer health benefits coverage,” Jodee Kozlack, Target’s executive vice president of human resources, said in a corporate blog post Tuesday.

“Our decision to discontinue this benefit comes after careful consideration of the impact of our stores’ part-time team members and to Target, the new options available for our part-time team, and the historically low number of team members who elected to enroll in the part-time plan.”

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