Brokerage powerhouse TD Ameritrade revealed on Sept. 14 that cyber-crooks have infiltrated its database of 6.3 million customers and have been sending targeted spam to stolen e-mail addresses.
The companys voice mail is featuring a message from CEO Joe Moglia reassuring callers that no Social Security numbers have been accessed, although a spokeswoman told eWEEK that SSNs are in fact kept on the same database that was breached.
Neither were account user IDs or passwords stolen, Moglia said, even though that information is kept on the same database as the customer information that was taken.
“[Its a] spam issue, but no accounts were touched,” Moglia said. “User IDs and passwords [remain] protected. [There is] no evidence that SSNs were ever taken.”
Regardless of whether SSNs were taken, security experts warn that TD Ameritrade customers should proceed with extreme caution when approaching their e-mail.
“Ameritrade is being very vocal about things like SSNs and passwords arent stolen. Well, if the hackers are miffed, theyll send out phishing e-mails to [TD] Ameritrade users saying, Hello, good friend here, you may have heard in the news that your details were lost. [To make up for it], wed like to give you free use of Ameritrade for a few weeks. Simply click on this link, then provide your account number and password,” said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos.
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Clicking on the theoretical link would then lead to a site designed to steal log-ins and passwords, of course, he said.
Thats one example of how TD Ameritrade customers could be targeted given the information thats now in the hands of cyber-criminals. Criminals could also now send highly targeted spam armed with a customers e-mail address, contact information, and knowledge that a given person regularly engages in online stock trading.
Pump and dump scam spam would be one likely use of such information. Cluley called this a “huge business” that now runs to some 25 percent of all spam Sophos now tracks—an explosive growth rate, up from 0.8 percent in January 2005.
Cluley pointed to one recent bust in the fight against pump-and-dumpers that came when four men pled guilty to being part of an international gang that used spam to manipulate stock prices, raising more than $20 million from investors. The four are now facing between 5 and 10 years in jail after having spammed investors with bogus news about 15 small companies and then selling off the artificially inflated stock and pocketing the profits.
Another thing the criminals could do with the knowledge of whos doing online stock trading would be to send offers for bogus tools, such as a free tool to track online portfolio that in actuality would be a Trojan that could commit identity theft or hijack a system, for example.
TD Ameritrade has been working with ID Analytics, a provider of identity risk services, to evaluate its customer base to determine if the theft of data has led to identity theft. The firm has to date found none, according to the spokeswoman.
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TD Ameritrade was tipped off to the breach within the past few weeks. After customers complained that they were receiving stock-related spam at e-mail addresses given to the brokerage, the company investigated and discovered that unauthorized code had been injected onto its systems, allowing a third party to retrieve customer data, the spokeswoman told eWEEK.
The thief—or thieves—managed to get their hands on contact information including e-mail addresses, names, phone numbers and physical addresses. They also managed to dig out information on customers trading activities, including the number of trades placed by clients in a given time period.
Until TD Ameritrade wraps up its investigation—now in progress in conjunction with the FBI, the FCC and forensics specialists—security experts are putting forth two potential scenarios for how the hack was done. One method, proposed by Dave Marcus, security research and communications manager at McAfee Avert Labs, is that the thieves used a slew of approaches, including “old-fashioned hacking.”
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“Based on TD Ameritrades statements the attackers most likely used old fashioned hacking, social engineering and a cocktail of malicious software including password-stealing Trojans and bots to pilfer the customer data,” he said in a statement.
Cluley proposed an alternative path through which the thieves might have entered the brokerage: via unpatched systems connecting to TD Ameritrades network, whether they belonged to employees, contractors or the copy machine repairman.
“Too many companies allow photocopier repairman to plug into their networks,” he said. “You have to prevent guests, contractors [and] remote users” from connecting, and infecting, a network, he said.
“It could have been, not an employee who got infected, but maybe someone who was simply a guest—somebody doing contract work or repairing the copy machine, who needed to download a patch for the copy machine, or who wanted to surf something or check their e-mail.”
Its that scenario—users or visitors plugging into a network and coughing up whatever viruses, Trojans or other nastyware their unpatched systems have caught—that NAC (Network Access Control) vendors have been using to try to sell their wares. Such products, whether hardware- or software-based, seek to enforce security policy by restricting systems that dont have up to date anti-virus signatures, are missing security patches or whatever other shortcomings they have vis-à-vis security policies.
“I dont believe [TD] Ameritrade dont have firewalls and AV and dont understand the importance of security patches,” Cluley said. “Maybe they need to do a little more to ensure that all those were compliant and only users who need to access the database [can]. … This is a wake-up call to go beyond [anti-virus software] and to secure and control [security] better with things like NAC,” Cluley said.
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