- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

Hackers made off with at least 285 million electronic records in 2008, more than in the four previous years combined, according to a new study that shows identity thieves are getting better at exploiting careless mistakes that leave companies vulnerable to attack.

The number comes from a study of 90 data breaches investigated by Verizon Communications Inc., which is hired to do a post-mortem on most big computer intrusions.

No victims are identified in the report. Many of the breaches aren’t even public. That can happen if law enforcement insists on secrecy because of an ongoing criminal investigation, or if personally identifiable information wasn’t lost in the hack.

In many breaches, especially involving lost or stolen laptops, the records aren’t used for anything at all.

Verizon’s study looked only at breaches involving attacks that resulted in compromised records being used in a crime, like making counterfeit credit cards and buying homes and medical coverage under someone else’s identity — and on their dime.

The company found that 90 percent of the breaches it investigated could have been avoided with basic security measures.

Verizon says 93 percent of all compromised records in its study came from the financial sector.

Spam e-mail scourge hits environment, too

There are plenty of reasons to hate spammers. Add this to the list: They’re environmentally unfriendly.

A report being released Wednesday by security company McAfee Inc. finds that spammers are a scourge to your inbox and the environment, generating an astounding 62 trillion junk e-mails in 2008 that wasted enough electricity to power 2.4 million U.S. homes for a year.

The “Carbon Footprint of E-mail Spam Report” estimated the computational power needed to process spam — from criminals tapping their armies of infected PCs to send it, Internet providers transmitting it, and end users viewing and deleting it.

The report concluded that the electricity needed to process a single spam message results in 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere — the equivalent of driving 3 feet in a car.

Nonprofit aims to broaden reach of campaign data

A nonprofit group that specializes in databases tracking the influence of money in politics is making its information available to others.

The group, the Center for Responsive Politics, hopes that individuals and other organizations will be able to develop new ways of slicing and dicing the data, such as by matching contributors to locations on an online map.

“Some of these we haven’t thought of doing, and some of these we would have no interest in doing or aren’t part of our mandate,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the center, which launched its OpenData initiative this week.

There are plenty of sources for basic data on campaign contributions. The center goes further by classifying donations by industry, making it easy, for instance, to tell how much members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee received from employees of oil companies. The center also has data on lobbyists and advocacy groups, as well as the financial disclosure statements that congressional members must make on their stock ownership and investments.

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