FBI director demands access to private cell phone data

From the cnet.com article ‘FBI director demands access to private cell phone data’ by  ()

To stop terrorists and other criminals, cell phones should have encryption backdoors to enable US government surveillance, argues FBI Director James Comey.

Cell phone encryption will prevent the federal government from stopping terrorists and child molesters unless the government is given special access, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told a Washington, DC, think tank on Thursday.

Comey, who noted that “both real-time communication and stored data are increasingly encrypted,” said that the trend by service providers to encrypt their customer data could prevent the government from lawfully pursuing criminals.

“Justice may be denied, because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive,” Comey said in his prepared remarks at the Brookings Institute. He explained that while Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) from 1994 mandated that telephone companies build wiretapping backdoors into their equipment, no such law forces new communication companies to do the same.

However, he didn’t mention that CALEA was expanded from its original mandate to include broadband Internet and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems like Skype in 2004.

Comey called out the default encryption in Apple’s iOS 8, and the optional Android encryption that will become the default for that operating system when Android 5.0 Lollipop is released next month, as blocking law enforcement from fully gathering evidence against suspects. He said that the solution was for tech firms to build “front-doors” on consumer cell phones and smartphones.

“We aren’t seeking a back-door approach,” Comey said, referring to a common term for encryption that has been intentionally weakened. “We want to use the front door, with clarity and transparency, and with clear guidance provided by law,” including court orders, he said.

The spying scandal that kicked off when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified surveillance documents has seen tech titans including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook scramble to build tougher encryption into their products. Google’s Eric Schmidt warned that the spying will “break the Internet.”

The current fight over how to secure customer data isn’t the first time that tech firms and the US government have gone to war over encryption. In the 1990s, the “crypto wars” saw tech companies and industry advocates force the US government to repeal laws that deemed cryptography a weapon.

While evoking imagery of children at play and innocents exonerated of false accusations thanks to FBI investigations unencumbered by encryption, Comey derided concerns by the tech community that weakening encryption made devices more susceptible to cyber-criminal attacks.

He acknowledged that “adversaries will exploit any vulnerability they find,” but that those exploits introduced by a backdoor could be mitigated by “developing intercept solutions during the design phase,” he said.

Cryptography expert and University of Pennsylvania professor Matt Blaze disagreed with that assumption. Comey’s speech, he said on Twitter, “didn’t merely dismiss or minimize the technical risks of back doors, it completely ignored them.”

Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist on its Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said that Comey’s insistence on weakening encryption opens the data to “foreign governments and criminals,” he said, “whether you call it a ‘front door’ or a ‘back door.'”

Soghoian noted in a blog post from 2010 that CALEA explicitly protects the right of a telecommunications company to build encryption to which only the customer possesses the cryptographic keys.

Comey’s speech appears to want to change that. The FBI didn’t return a request for comment.

Google declined to comment specifically on Comey’s statements, but reiterated its support for encryption. “People previously used safes and combination locks to keep their information secure — now they use encryption. It’s why we have worked hard to provide this added security for our users,” a Google spokesperson said.

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Russian hackers tap Windows flaw to hit NATO, Ukraine

From the Cnet.com Article by Charlie Osborne

Security firm iSight says the “Sandworm” team has targeted NATO, the European Union, Ukraine and industry through a previously unrecognized Windows zero-day exploit.

Russian hackers have exploited a bug in Microsoft’s Windows operating system in order to target computers used by NATO, the European Union, Ukraine and the telecommunications and energy sectors, according to security firm iSight.

In a blog post Tuesday, Dallas-based iSight, in collaboration with Microsoft, said the zero-day vulnerability impacts all supported versions of Microsoft Windows and Windows Server 2008 and 2012. The software giant is readying a patch for the CVE-2014-4114 vulnerability, used for the “Sandworm” cyberattack.

The automatic fix will be part of today’s Patch Tuesday release.

The exploit has been used as part of a five-year cyberespionage campaign, according to iSight. The hackers, dubbed the “Sandworm team” — based on coded references to the science fiction series ‘Dune” — have been monitored by iSight from late 2013 to the present day, although the campaign appears to have been in action since 2009. Spear phishing with malicious files attached is one of the favored methods of infiltrating computer systems, and other exploit methods include the use of BlackEnergy crimeware, as well as Microsoft’s Windows zero-day flaw.

The Windows CVE-2014-4114 vulnerability has been in use since August last year, mainly through weaponized PowerPoint documents.

iSight says that the team previously launched campaigns targeting the US and EU intelligence communities, military establishments, news organizations and defense contractors — as well as jihadists and rebels in Chechnya. However, focus has turned towards the Ukrainian conflict with Russia, energy industries and political issues concerning Russia based on evidence gleaned from phishing emails.

The cybersecurity experts do not know what data has been lifted throughout the Sandworm campaign, however, “the use of this zero-day vulnerability virtually guarantees that all of those entities targeted fell victim to some degree.”

The security team notified government agencies and private sector companies that have been targeted, and began working with Microsoft to patch the zero-day vulnerability, which allows the remote execution of arbitrary code. iSight says:

Although the vulnerability impacts all versions of Microsoft Windows — having the potential to impact an enormous user population — from our tracking it appears that its existence was little known and the exploitation was reserved to the Sandworm team.

By disclosing the security flaw on the eve of Patch Tuesday, iSight believes that the possibility of other hacking teams exploiting the zero-day vulnerability has been minimized.

 

 

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US spying scandal will ‘break the Internet,’ says Google’s Schmidt

US government surveillance is destroying the digital economy, a roundtable of execs from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other tech companies tell Sen. Ron Wyden

From the CNET.com Article by Seth Rosenblatt ( @sethr)

PALO ALTO, Calif. — The impact of US government surveillance on tech firms and the economy is going to get worse before it gets better, leaders at some of the biggest tech firms warned US Sen. Ron Wyden on Wednesday during a roundtable on the impact of US government surveillance on the digital economy.

The senior Democratic senator from Oregon took the floor at the Palo Alto High School gymnasium — where he played high school basketball well enough to earn a college scholarship for his court-side abilities more than 50 years ago — to discuss the economic impact and future risks of US government surveillance on technology firms.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who has been outspoken on the topic, pulled no punches with his assessment of how the spying scandal has and will continue to impact Google and other tech companies.

The impact is “severe and is getting worse,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to wind up breaking the Internet.”

Also on the panel with Schmidt was Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, another critic who became more outspoken of government surveillance after Edward Snowden leaked National Security Agency documents in 2013 that showed a much wider federal spying apparatus than previously believed.

“Just as people won’t put their money in a bank they won’t trust, people won’t use an Internet they won’t trust,” Smith said.

Panelist Ramsey Homsany, general counsel for online storage company Dropbox, said the trust between customers and businesses that is at the core of the Internet’s economic engine has begun to “rot it from the inside out.”

“The trust element is extremely insidious,” Homsany said. “It’s about personal emails, it’s about photos, it’s about plans, it’s about medical records.”

The documents leaked by Snowden indicate that the US government has been collecting a record of most calls made within the US, including the initiating and receiving phone numbers, and the length of the call; emails, Facebook posts and instant messages of an unspecified number of people; and the vast majority of unencrypted Internet traffic including searches and social media posts. Documents from Snowden show that the British equivalent of the NSA, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has a similar program.

Trouble abroad

In prepared remarks to open the roundtable, Wyden noted that he warned back in 2011 that people were going to be stunned and angry when they found out how the US government had been “secretly applying its surveillance authority” to its citizens. What he wasn’t counting on was the international backlash.

Some of the international pushback is in response to data collection by tech companies, not the US government. Europe’s new and controversial “right to be forgotten” law, which says European citizens have a right to ask search engines to remove any results that might infringe on their privacy, is causing headaches for Google. Critics contend that Google policies placed data collection over privacy.

The tech execs on the panel were most upset and scared about international efforts to impose “data localization,” as Microsoft’s Smith put it, referring to a burgeoning efforts by countries to force companies to build data centers based within their borders.

The cost of building data centers in each country that a tech firm wants to do business in could wind up destroying US tech firms, Schmidt and Smith warned.

Schmidt called data localization a “national emergency.” Tech titans have yet to go in-depth as to the actual financial impact data localization has had on them, but in addition to the costs of having to build at least one separate data center for each country that demanded it, data localization could also subject the data to local laws in a way that tech firms worry would erode user trust — and their ability to trade on that trust — even further.

Smith noted that 96 percent of the world does not live in the US, and that the American tech economy depends on convincing them that American tech services are trustworthy. “Foreign data centers would compromise American [economic] growth” and leadership, he said.

Abroad, efforts are already underway to force international tech companies to be more respectful of their own national interests — efforts that could erode consumer trust further, said Wyden. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said publicly that Germany is looking at European email service providers so that their messages “don’t have to go across the Atlantic.” The government of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is considering forcing US tech firms to build data centers in Brazil, if they want to do business with Brazil.

The biggest indication of the decline of America’s ability to guide the Internet, according to Wyden, is that Chinese officials told the senator earlier this summer that they considered the Chinese theft of US tech trade secrets no different than US government surveillance of foreign governments and firms.

Rebuilding trust

Part of reclaiming leadership in the digital economy since the Snowden document leaks has been efforts by tech companies to encrypt user data to protect it. Facebook has used its leverage to help convince tech companies to implement tougher webmail encryption standards, while Google and Yahoo are seeking to push the envelope of how encryption can safeguard webmail.

Panelist Colin Stretch, general counsel for Facebook, called efforts to encrypt user data “a key business objective of all of us.”

“I’d be fundamentally surprised if anybody takes the foot off the pedal of building encryption into their products,” he said.

Wyden reiterated his stance that he is not opposed to all government surveillance: He supports Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments from 2008, which allows the director of National Intelligence and the US attorney general to team up to target non-US citizens located outside the US.

While Wyden and the panelists discussed the need to revise American laws as the first step to regain the trust of American citizens and international governments, they didn’t talk about what to do with the data that’s already been collected.

Wyden told CNET after the panel that he had no plans at the moment to address the data that the government has currently collected.

“I have to reflect on that,” he said, but added, “The cat’s out of the bag. I want to get policies right for the future.”

“There’s no question that Washington, DC, does overreach well,” quipped the senator.

Wyden concluded with a promise to make Congress take action to preserve the digital economy.

“The message here today is that there is a clear and present danger to the Internet economy,” he said. “The reality is that we can pass a good bipartisan bill by the end of the year.”

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Twitter sues US government over user data-request gag rules

Social network says current government restrictions on transparency are preventing tech companies from being fully honest with the public.

From the cnet.com article by Seth Rosenblatt ( @sethr)

Twitter is suing the US government in federal court to loosen restrictions that prevent full disclosure of government demands for Twitter user data.

The suit, filed by the San Francisco-based social networking company in the US District Court of Northern California, says that US government prohibitions on sharing the nature of some of its demands for Twitter user data violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause (PDF). Twitter legal counsel Ben Lee said in a blog post that the firm believes that current government restrictions on transparency are preventing tech companies from being fully honest with the public.

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of US government officials by providing information about the scope of US government surveillance — including what types of legal process have not been received,” Lee said. “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”

Lee said that currently government restrictions “prohibit and even criminalize” the company from discussing the mere number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and National Security Letter court orders its received — “even if that number is zero.” FISA and NSL court orders for user data play a key role in the government’s surveillance apparatus, as revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Before Snowden’s leaks to the media, most if not all companies couldn’t disclose that they’d received those court orders in the first place. Currently, Twitter and other tech firms can only disclose to the nearest thousand how many orders its has received.

Lee said that Twitter submitted a draft of its most recent Transparency Report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in an attempt to negotiate a deal without resorting to the courts. After “months of discussions,” however, the government refused to budge, he said.

The breakdown in talks appears to contradict a promise by President Obama that tech firms would be given a freer hand to report on government requests.

The Department of Justice did not return a request for comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded Twitter’s lawsuit and encouraged other tech firms to follow suit.

“The Constitution doesn’t permit the government to impose so broad a prohibition on the publication of truthful speech about government conduct,” said ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer in a statement. “Technology companies have an obligation to protect their customers’ sensitive information against overbroad government surveillance, and to be candid with their customers about how their information is being used and shared.”

 

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Critical USB Hack Goes Public; How Bad Is The Risk?

From the Newsy.com’s Matt Pitch

Because we just didn’t have enough tech security problems to worry about, computer science researchers have just published a potentially catastrophic security exploit. It’s ubiquitous, it’s nearly impossible to fix, and it’s all thanks to these little devices.

The problem first came to light several months ago, when a pair of researchers, Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell, unveiled BadUSB, a way to transform common USB devices into malware-laden attack vectors which could hijack any computer they were attached to.

The firmware-based exploit involves altering the very nature of how a USB device communicates with a computer — which meant traditional malware detectors wouldn’t pick up on the attacks, and countering the threat would be nearly impossible. (Video via Vimeo / Offensive Security)

When they first revealed BadUSB, the hackers declined to reveal how they made the malware, citing security reasons. But another pair of researchers has now reverse-engineered the hack — and they’ve opened up their work to the public.

Adam Caudill and Brandon Wilson have made some of the code behind their version of BadUSB freely available on GitHub. The hackers say they’re publishing their work so the community can come up with a solution.

ADAM CAUDILL VIA YOUTUBE / ADRIAN CRENSHAW“If you’re going to say something, if you’re going to prove that there’s a flaw, you need to release the material so people can defend against it.”

But The Verge notes a fix is likely to require “a full update to the USB standard itself, which means years of insecurity. However the industry responds, we’re likely to be living with it for a long, long time.”

It’s also possible we’ve already been living with this problem: BadUSB looks a bit like COTTONMOUTH, a National Security Agency product revealed during the Snowden leaks which hijacks USB devices.

Now that the instructions for building BadUSB attacks are out in the wild, it’s possible malicious hackers could start building these types of attacks. So, should we freak out?

In a blog post, Caudill stated his release is just a harmless demo, and doesn’t contain anything that might enable malware. “The kind of people that have what it takes to do this, could do it regardless of our release. … I firmly believe that by releasing this code, the risk to the average user isn’t increased at all.”

And Mashable notes there are a few basic ways to guard against BadUSB attacks — for one thing, don’t let suspicious or untrusted USB sticks anywhere near your computer. It’s also possible to lock USB port use on Windows systems, or by using endpoint security software.

Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow has a slightly more apocryphal bit of advice — apparently, someone with high-level connections to the U.S. intelligence community told Doctorow “the spooks he worked with would only trust USB thumb-drives from one vendor, a U.S.-based firm that had been vetted by American spies.”

So, y’know, if you can find that vendor, you should be safe from most black-hat USB attacks! Until then, it’s probably better to not put anything in your computer if you don’t know where it’s been.

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Comcast Is Threatening to Cut Off Customers Who Use Tor, a Private Web Browser

Multiple users of anonymous Web browser Tor have reported that Comcast has threatened to cut off their Internet service unless they stop using the legal software.

According to a report on DeepDotWeb, Comcast customer representatives have branded Tor “illegal” and told customers that using it is against the company’s policies.

Tor is a type of Web browser that, in theory, makes all your Internet activity private. The software routes traffic through a series of other connected Internet users, making it difficult for governments and private companies to monitor your Internet usage. Up to 1.2 million people use the browser, which became especially popular after Edward Snowden leaked information showing that the NSA was eavesdropping on ordinary citizens. Prior to that, Tor had been popular among people transacting business on Silk Road, the online market for drugs and hit men.

The problem is that downloading or using Tor itself isn’t illegal. Plenty of people might have legitimate reasons to want to surf the Web in private, without letting others know what they were looking at. But Tor has been pretty popular with criminals.

Comcast has reportedly begun telling users that it is an “illegal service.” One Comcast representative, identified only as “Kelly,” warned a customer over his use of Tor software, DeepDotWeb reports:“Users who try to use anonymity, or cover themselves up on the Internet, are usually doing things that aren’t so-to-speak legal. We have the right to terminate, fine, or suspend your account at any time due to you violating the rules. Do you have any other questions? Thank you for contacting Comcast, have a great day.”
Comcast customers, speaking to DeepDotWeb, claimed that Comcast repeatedly asked them which sites they were accessing using Tor.
In a statement to DeepDotWeb, Comcast defended its actions, seemingly asserting that it needs to be able to monitor Internet traffic in case it receives a court order:
“We respect customer privacy and security and would only investigate the specifics of a customer’s account with a valid court order. And if we’re asked by a court to provide customer information, then we ask for a reasonable amount of time to notify the customer so they can decide if they would like to hire a lawyer and if they do, then we turn the case over to them and they proceed with the judge directly and we step away.”
UPDATE: Comcast also said in a later statement that the report was “wildly inaccurate” and that it has no “stated policy” against its customers using Tor.
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Verizon pays $7.4 million to settle FCC privacy investigation

As reported by CNET.com’s Marguerite Reardon ( @Maggie_reardon)

Verizon Communications has agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission $7.4 million to settle an investigation into the company’s use of consumers’ personal information for marketing purposes.

This is the largest such payment the FCC has ever received in an investigation related solely to the privacy of telephone customers’ personal information.

The settlement comes as the FCC is trying to look like it’s being tough on wireless phone companies. In late July, the commission sent Verizon a strongly worded letter in which Chairman Tom Wheeler said he was “deeply troubled” by Verizon’s decision to expand its network-management policy that targets customers of its unlimited data plans.

Chairman Wheeler has come under fire from fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill, as well as consumer groups and even comedians like John Oliver, for bowing too much to the will of big broadband companies, as his agency attempts to redraft new Net neutrality rules. The rules are designed to replace regulation that a federal court threw out earlier this year. Critics have been especially unhappy with the chairman for drafting a proposal to reinstate Open Internet rules that they claim would allow broadband companies to pay for priority access to networks, creating so-called Internet fast lanes.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, and governments around the world, should treat all Internet traffic the same. This means Internet service providers (ISPs) shouldn’t block or slow down traffic on their local broadband networks based on individual users. And they shouldn’t modify their services based on the type of traffic those users are accessing or on the type of service that’s sending the content.

Even though the FCC says the Verizon investigation has nothing to do with the rewrite of the Net neutrality rules, it’s clear the commission wants to look as though it can take a tough stand against the phone companies.

The investigation

The Communications Act requires phone companies to protect the privacy of customers’ information, such as sensitive personal information like billing and location data. But some of this data can be used by a phone company for marketing additional services to consumers. The main restriction is that customers must provide phone companies with their approval through either an “opt in” or “opt out” process. When that process isn’t working properly, the company must report the problem to the FCC within five business days.

Verizon typically uses an opt-out process. It sends notices to new customers in a welcome letter asking them if they don’t want their information used by Verizon to send them marketing information about other Verizon services they might be interested in.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said it discovered that, beginning in 2006 and continuing for several years, Verizon had failed to notify about 2 million new customers of their privacy rights, which would have let them opt out. In addition to the $7.4 million payment, Verizon has agreed to notify customers of their opt-out rights on every bill for the next three years.

“In today’s increasingly connected world, it is critical that every phone company honor its duty to inform customers of their privacy choices and then to respect those choices,” Travis LeBlanc, Acting Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. “It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out.”

Verizon didn’t become aware of the issue until September 2012, the FCC said in its statement. And the company failed to notify the FCC of the problem until January 18, 2013 — 126 days after becoming aware of it — which is way beyond the 5 days the FCC requires.

Verizon said in a statement that it takes seriously the obligation to comply with all FCC rules. It also noted that the issue didn’t involve a security breach:

“The issue here was that a notice required by FCC rules inadvertently was not provided to certain of Verizon’s wireline customers before they received marketing materials from Verizon for other Verizon services that might be of interest to them,” the company said in a statement. “It did not involve a data breach or an unauthorized disclosure of customer information to third parties.”

 

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Hackers Transform a Smartphone Gyroscope into an Always-On Microphone

From  Engadget.com’s Steve Dent

Apps that use your smartphone’s microphone need to ask permission, but the motion sensors? No say-so needed. That might not sound like a big deal, but security researchers from Stanford University and defense firm Rafael have discovered a way to turn Android phone gyroscopes into crude microphones. They call their app “Gyrophone” and here’s how it works: the tiny gyros in your phone that measure orientation do so using vibrating pressure plates. As it turns out, they can also pick up air vibrations from sounds, and many Android devices can do it in the 80 to 250 hertz range — exactly the frequency of a human voice.

By contrast, the iPhone’s sensor only uses frequencies below 100Hz, and is therefore useless for tapping conversations. Though the researchers’ system can only pick up the odd word or the speaker’s gender, they said that voice recognition experts could no doubt make it work better. They’ll be delivering a paper next week at the Usenix Security conference, but luckily, Google is already up on the research. “This early, academic work should allow us to provide defenses before there is any likelihood of real exploitation.”

For more information check out Stanford University’s Security Research page HERE

 

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How to Read Your Facebook Messages Without Downloading the New Messenger App

From Yahoo! Tech’s Alyss Bereznak located HERE
**NOTE: THIS APPLIES TO THE IPHONE ONLY**

Earlier this week we established that most people hate the new Messenger app Facebook is forcing them to download.

Luckily, The Guardian has discovered a way to stick it to the Zuck and avoid downloading the app. Keep in mind that it works only for those who don’t already have Messenger on their phones. Further, it could be disabled at any moment.

For now, however, the workaround lets you receive Facebook messages without having to download a second app for the privilege.

Here’s how you do it:

1. When you go to access your private messages on Facebook, you’ll likely see a notification that you must now download the Messenger app to receive them.
2. Click the Install button. The app will automatically redirect you to your phone’s app store. Tap the Free button (or, if you’ve deleted the app, the cloud) to begin downloading Messenger.
3. Before the download finishes, cancel it by tapping the progress button.
4. Return to the main Facebook app. You should then be able to see your private messages!

It’s likely this secret method won’t exist for long, but use it while you can. Lord knows you’ll want to avoid the company’s poorly reviewed, unpopular spinoff for as long as humanly possible.

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Russian Hackers Amass Over a Billion Internet Passwords

Excerpt from the NYTIMES.COM’s article by Nicole Perlroth and David Gelles August 5, 2014
Click HERE to read the full Article.

A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion user name and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses, security researchers say.

The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, including household names, and small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems.

Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable. At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic. Another computer crime expert who had reviewed the data, but was not allowed to discuss it publicly, said some big companies were aware that their records were among the stolen information.

Hackers did not just target U.S. companies, they targeted any website they could get, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to very small websites,” said Alex Holden, the founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security. “And most of these sites are still vulnerable.”