Hacking for Credit

Journalists often say that three of anything equals a trend. If so, get ready for a raft of hand-wringing stories about online (in)security. Just a week after a cracker stole credit card numbers from CD Universe, here come reports that hackers broke into Visa's European headquarters in a failed blackmail attempt. Meanwhile, MSNBC reported that reporters were able to view 4,000 personal account numbers sitting "in plain view" on the Web site of GlobalHealthtrax, a multilevel marketing health-product Web site. "What's worse," wrote MSNBC's Bob Sullivan, "these included not just credit card numbers, but in some cases bank account numbers - everything a criminal would need to print their own checks and empty a victim's account."

The Visa hack was first reported in the Sunday Times of London, which reported that 11 other multinational companies also may have been hit, according to MSNBC's Mike Brunker. Kristina Scott, a spokeswoman for Visa International, told Brunker that the break-in happened in July but only just now became public.

According to Brunker, Scott said Visa received a ransom demand of 10 million pounds in early December but refused to pay. Instead, it notified Scotland Yard and the FBI. Brunker wrote, "Scott emphasized that there was no evidence suggesting the thieves had gained access to consumer data, transaction-processing systems or the network that connects Visa's 21,000 member financial institutions."

Still, a security expert told Brunker that assurances the thieves didn't steal anything valuable should be viewed "with a certain amount of cynicism and doubt." Regardless of what Visa's thieves got, the story compounded the drama of the CD Universe theft, which both MSNBC and ABCnews.com mentioned.

Meanwhile, a Wired News story about a conference of security experts in Silicon Valley suggested that more such incidents are likely to follow. Chris Oakes quoted Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist for Cryptography Research:

"There have been too many security failures in the past and it's going to get worse." The media can hardly wait.

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