Mass identity theft using spyware

Sunbelt Software, developer of antispyware programs, has stumbled upon a large-scale operation of criminals who steal personal data through a widely used spyware program. The company found this out last Thursday when it investigated CoolWebSearch, a program that forces browsers to visit websites that in turn use techniques to collect data about the surfer. The examined variant of CWS sends all possible data it can find to a server in the United States. According to Alex Eckelberry, director of Sunbelt Software, this server is a veritable treasure trove of information for criminals interested in personal identification and banking information.

The server contains a variety of data. The company found chat logs, usernames and passwords, eBay account information and banking information. With that information, two accounts with $11,000 and $350,000, among other things, could easily be looted. Among the more personal messages were a family’s vacation plans, an assignment for a driver to pick up customers at an airport, and data on a user with a tendency to paedophilia. The company claims that this server is one of the worst cases of ID theft they’ve encountered and it’s the first time it has actually gotten hold of data used and traded by criminals.

The FBI has been notified of the find and has begun investigating connections to the server. Several individuals and banks have also been notified of the leaked information. This finding is a good indicator of the seriousness of spyware and personal data theft, according to Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with Spire Security LLC. According to him, this case surpasses a possible break-in at credit card companies, because they are better aware of the possibilities for criminals to break in, compared to the standard computer user. “This stuff hits home because it’s personal. It’s like taking something out of your home,” said Lindstrom.