FBI investigating how sensitive celebrity data landed on Web

The Social Security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers of First Lady Michelle Obama, pop singer Beyonce, wrestler Hulk Hogan, and more are posted on a doxxing Web site.

First Lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention. CBS

Some hacker or hackers has it out for a handful of celebrities, politicians, and law enforcement officials, including First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and pop singer Beyonce.

Collected onto one Web site -- called "The Secret Files" -- is a slew of financial and personal information on these public figures. The data is so sensitive that it has sparked investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that the government agencies are looking into how www.exposed.su obtained the Social Security numbers, credit reports, telephone numbers, and addresses of these individuals, according to Reuters.

So far, it looks like a lot of the private information came from illegally obtained consumer credit reports from the companies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. According to Bloomberg, the hackers got the reports by collecting personal details about the celebrities and politicians from the Web or other sources. Armed with this preliminary information, the hackers were able to impersonate the victims and fool the credit report Web sites into giving them each person's credit history.

"We are aware of recent media reports pertaining to unauthorized access to files belonging to high-profile individuals," Equifax spokesman Tim Klein told Bloomberg. "Equifax can confirm that fraudulent and unauthorized access to four consumer credit reports has occurred."

It's unclear exactly how much of the information posted on The Secret Files is accurate or when it was gathered -- the Web site first appeared yesterday. According to Politico, a handful of the credit reports were generated last week. A Twitter account for The Secret Files has been suspended.

Taking all of this distinct information from the celebrities and politicians and putting it together on one Web site is an example of what's called doxxing. Adam Levin, chairman of identity theft protection firm IDentity Theft 911, told CNET that this type of cyberattack is likely on the rise.

"We face a growing pandemic of cyber intrusions to which no one is immune," Levin said. "In the celebrity community those who engage in 'doxxing' are simply the new paparazzi -- cyber paparazzi. As long as folks thirst for tabloid exposes of their favorite stars, there will always be a community of media stalkers ready to provide the virtual and actual liquid refreshment."

This isn't the first case of celebrity hacking, Christopher Chaney was sentenced to 10 years in prison in December after pleading guilty to hacking into dozens of celebrities' e-mail accounts and posting their private information online. Among his victims were actors Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson and singer Christina Aguilera. More than 50 victims from the entertainment industry were connected with the case, but only a handful agreed to be identified by name with the hope of garnering awareness about online information theft.

Besides the first lady, vice president, and Beyonce, the list of people exposed on The Secret Files include socialite Kim Kardashian, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, actors Mel Gibson and Ashton Kutcher, rapper Jay-Z, socialite Paris Hilton, pop singer Britney Spears, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, wrestler Hulk Hogan, property mogul Donald Trump, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Vice President Al Gore, rapper Kanye West, and socialite Kris Jenner.

 

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