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FBI pulls down exposed card numbers; breach fixed

The more than 55,000 credit card numbers exposed online for more than a day are removed by FBI agents, and the security hole that let a hacker steal the information is fixed.

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Hackers expose credit card numbers
Chris Rouland, Internet Security Systems
The more than 55,000 credit card numbers exposed on the Web for more than a day have been removed by FBI agents, and the security hole that allowed a hacker to steal the information from Creditcards.com has been fixed, an executive said Wednesday.

As previously reported by CNET News.com, the credit card information was posted after a failed extortion attempt, said Laurent Jean, a spokesman for business-to-business site Creditcards.com.

"It was an act of retribution," Jean said. "He was angry with us, and this was the way he took out his anger?After (he asked) us for money, we did everything we could to prevent him from entering our system."

The FBI's "Cyber Squad" in Los Angeles removed the credit card information late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Jean said. The agents were still trying Wednesday to track down the hacker.

Matt McLaughlin, spokesman for the FBI's Los Angeles field office, declined to discuss specifics of the case.

The credit card information was first exposed sometime Monday and remained visible most of Tuesday.

Privately held Creditcards.com is a Los Angeles-based business-to-business site that works with Web merchants so they can accept credit card payments. According to the company's Web site, its customers include software maker iKnowledge and health site Premier Solutions.

The year has seen several high-profile security breaches at e-commerce sites. In September, human error caused a glitch that allowed a hacker to copy the credit card information of about 15,700 customers from Western Union's Web site.

Hackers broke into CD Universe's database in January and posted links to thousands of customer names, addresses and credit card numbers after not being able to extort money from the online music store.

Though studies have shown that hacker attacks have caused some consumers to shy away from online shopping, hacking is much more of a threat to companies, IDC analyst Charles Kolodgy said.

"It's a pain for the credit card companies who must cancel thousands of cards and potentially reimburse bogus charges," Kolodgy said. However, for the individual cardholder, the breach is a mere nuisance, he said.

Security breaches like the one at Creditcards.com are an indication of where the real security problems are: in companies' back-end databases, Kolodgy said. While there is a certain risk that credit cards sent over the Internet can be intercepted, databases contain huge amounts of personal information that comes from all types of transactions, not just from consumer Internet purchases, he said.

Chris Rouland, head of Internet Security Systems' security group, said the breach is inconvenient for consumers, expensive for credit card companies, and potentially terminal for Creditcards.com.

"Their credibility is gone," Rouland said. "Their whole business had to be around providing a secure service, which they weren't able to do. For this to occur during the holiday shopping season, it will certainly be an issue."

Issuing new credit cards costs about $10 to $20 apiece, Rouland said, meaning that this particular problem could potentially cost credit card companies as much as $1 million to fix.

In the history of publicly known computer security breaches, this one probably ranks in the top 100, Rouland said. ISS, a security consulting company, encounters roughly one extortion attempt a month in its security consulting business, he said.