Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that eleven perpetrators behind the largest known identity theft ring in history have been charged with conspiracy, computer intrusion and identity theft.

Allegedly, the group is responsible for stealing and selling more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers. The credit and debit card numbers were intercepted electronically at nine retailers, who transmitted their unprotected financial information using wireless networks. Once they hacked into the wireless networks, the group would install sniffer packets to capture card numbers and PIN numbers.

TJX, who was severely criticized for their breach of approximately 8.5 million records wasn’t the only retailer being compromised. BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 and DSW were being compromised, also. The restaurant chain Dave and Busters was also compromised by having “sniffer packets” installed on their point of sale terminals by the group.

Merchants have been under fire for not meeting PCI data security standards, which were developed by the payment card industry to protect systems against compromises. The National Retail Federation has fired back at the payment card industry for forcing merchants to store sensitive information, which can easily be stolen. In a recent data breach involving the theft of 4.2 million card numbers, Hannaford Brothers had been certified as being PCI compliant, which led a lot people to speculate that PCI data security standards might be outdated, themselves.

Sniffer packets are used to monitor information in a network and can be used to gather a lot of sensitive information. Detecting a sniffer packet on a wireless network is known to be extremely difficult. A practice known as “wardriving” is when people drive around and try to pick up wireless signals from unprotected networks. Computer security experts highly recommend making wireless networks secure, including those of the home variety, by password protecting them. Software to assist people, who do this, is freely available on the Internet.

After the information was stolen it was stored on encrypted computer servers in Eastern Europe and the United States. Some of the stolen data was sold to other information criminals via the Internet. The group also counterfeited their own cards and used them to steal money from ATMs.

Recently, Finjan, a computer security company, announced finding servers with a lot of stolen information on the Internet. At least one the crimeservers found by Finjan wasn’t even password protected. Finjan reported finding these crimeservers using simple Google searches.

The money was laundered using internet based currencies and by moving funds through banks in Eastern Europe.

Three executives at E-Gold, which is a internet based currency, recently pleaded guilty to allowing criminal activity of this nature (money laundering) using their service.

The criminal activity started in 2003 and went right up to the present time. Albert “Segvec” Gonzalez, of Miami, one of the main players in the group was previously arrested for similar activity in 2003. During the current investigation, the Secret Service discovered Gonzalez was working as a government informant and involved in the criminal activity at the same time.

Also charged in the indictments yesterday were Maksym “Maksik” Yastremskiy, of Kharkov, Ukraine, and Aleksandr “Jonny Hell” Suvorov, of Sillamae, Estonia. Hung-Ming Chiu and Zhi Zhi Wang, of the People’s Republic of China were also charged. Sergey Pavolvich, of Belarus and Ukranians Dzmitry Burak and Sergey Storchak were also named in the indictment. Two U.S. citizens Christopher Scott and Damon Patrick Toey, finished up the long list of names from all over the world involved in this organized criminal enterprise.

The range of the activity took place in numerous countries, including the United States, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and Thailand.

These indictments are the result of a three-year investigation conducted by the Secret Service. As the case progresses, it is being reported that they will be working closely with the IRS, on the money laundering aspect of the case.

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