How Do You Steal 130 Million Credit Card Numbers?

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A Miami man and two Russian accomplices are being indicted for allegedly stealing 130 million credit card numbers, the largest identity theft in history. That's a lot of credit card numbers -- like, one for every housing unit in the United States. How did they do it?


The historic theft involved five corporate data hackings, between 2006 and 2008, including Heartland, Hannaford, 7-Eleven and two unnamed companies, according to Channel Web. US investigators say the team scanned lists of Fortune 500 companies and learned about their checkout counter machines (also known as point-of-sale systems). Then they would write specific codes to corrupt their data systems and launch a virus from computers in the United States and Europe to pull hundreds and thousands of credit card numbers, and sort through them using a "sniffer," which is basically a data analysis system that decodes big chunks of information.

So how much damage could these kind of hackings do? The group leader is already being prosecuted for stealing another 40 million credit card numbers from TJ Maxx and Marshall's retailers, in a plot that has allegedly cost the companies about $400 million, according to the Washington Post.

For those interested in reading about how companies like 7-11 and Heartland Payment Systems (Slogan: "The Highest Standards; The Most Trusted Transactions") PC World has some interesting thoughts here.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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