Last week, Epsilon was a little-known e-mail marketing firm, a behind-the-scenes player in the Web-marketing world. This week, it's held a prominent place in the headlines as the target of a massive data breach that exposed names and e-mail addresses for aat dozens of prominent companies.
E-mails from the likes of Citibank, Chase, Capital One, Walgreens, Target, Best Buy, TiVo, TD Ameritrade, Verizon, and Ritz Carlton--have been flooding in-boxes since Epsilon. Some people (this writer included) have reported receiving as many as four of these warnings.
Companies like Citibank and Walgreens are household names, but little was known about Epsilon and how it accesses customer data. But Epsilon is actually one of a growing number of firms that offer outsourced services to help companies attract and keep customers. In addition to offering e-mail marketing services and managing customer e-mail databases for clients, it monitors social networking and other sites to see what people are saying about a company, advises on markets to target, helps develop and maintain customer loyalty programs, and more.
Epsilon has apologized, but so far, the only key information it has provided about the incident is that names and e-mail addresses of a "subset" of its 2,500 customers were exposed in the breach, which was detected on March 30. It's unclear how many of Epsilon's clients and how many of their customers are affected, but a tally being kept at Databreaches.net was up to 57 today. Epsilon says it's working with federal authorities and outside forensics experts on the investigation and has reviewed its security protocols controlling access to the system and further restricted them.
Later in the week, we learned that Epsilon partner Return Path, which offers e-mail monitoring services,that thousands of e-mail addresses were stolen in a broad phishing campaign that targeted e-mail service providers. While it is unclear whether Epsilon was affected by the phishing attacks last year or how it was compromised in the latest incident, there is some indication that this may not be the first data breach at the company.
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Updated April 11 at 11:08 a.m. PT to remove reference to American Express from list of companies affected.