The DBA Thief Who Knew Enough To Avoid His Own Network

Written by Evan Schuman
July 6th, 2007

Fidelity National suffered the ultimate insider theft when an IT staffer sold about 2.3 million customer records to a marketing firm. But it’s the low-tech way this techie did it that makes it interesting.

When Fidelity National Information Services this week announced that about 2.3 million customer records had been illegally sold to a group of direct marketers, most media overlooked the most interesting part.

Some quick background. The Fidelity National we’re talking about is a Jacksonville, Fla., firm that owns a company called Certegy Check Services Inc.. Certegy is mostly in the check authorization business and it tracks bank account information so that can help retailers whether it’s wise to accept a particular check. The company says it also handles some credit card information “to assist casinos in providing their customers with access to funds.”

Fidelity National said that about “2.3 million records are believed to be at issue, with approximately 2.2 million containing bank account information and 99,000 containing credit card information.”

Fidelity National said the incident “came to light when one of Certegy’s retail check processing customers alerted Certegy to a correlation between a small number of check transactions and the receipt by the retailer’s customers of direct telephone solicitations and mailed marketing materials.” Added Renz Nichols, President of Certegy Check Services: “As a result of this apparent theft, the consumers affected received marketing solicitations from the companies that bought the data.”

The company said that this was all orchestrated by one employee, who has thus far only been identified as “a senior-level database administrator who was entrusted with defining and enforcing data access rights.” If someone wants to steal a database, that’s the perfect job to have.

Despite?or is it because of??this employee’s technical expertise, intimate knowledge of the network and extreme access, he/she didn’t break in, didn’t do a transfer and didn’t concoct such elaborate script to make data copies. “The incident does not involve any outside intrusion into, or compromise of, Certegy’s technology systems,” said a company statement. Here’s the most fascinating part: “To avoid detection, the technician removed the information from Certegy’s facility via physical processes; not electronic transmission.”

As a DBA, this admin knew precisely the likely next steps. They’d search for a security breach and then bring in a forensic investigator. The U.S. Secret Service came in next.

The most time-honored rule of security is the weak link. Namely, that a skilled thief will quickly determine the weakest possible point of access and focus his/her efforts there.

Although the obvious takeaway is to try and secure all access points, the other takeaway is to not waste money layering on excess security on any one entry point.

Take a house, for example. If the frontdoor is made of thick steal and has a high-end deadbolt on it, it’s a waste to install a second deadbolt when there’s a perfectly fine window two feet away. Once that door made the window the weak link, additional security on the door is useless.

In a frightening unanticipated consequence, law enforcement a year or so ago reported increased in carjackings at gunpoint. One crucial culprit? The newest anti-theft devices were too effective. When the car was sufficiently secured at all points, the driver became the weaklink.

In the Fidelity National incident, that DBA knew the company’s weaklink. They had poured enough security and tracking systems in that he chose to avoid leaving any digital fingerprints at all. Whether the DBA is supposed to have stolen a backup tape or engaged in some other physical theft is not yet clear.

How was the suspect caught? The Secret Service was able to identify the company that was supplying the direct marketers with the information. That company was apparently owned and operated by the DBA in question. If the allegations are true, the DBA was smart enough to avoid leaving any electronic breadcrumbs but was then dumb enough to use a company he was identified with to make the sale.

The IT moral of the story: When the people who know your system best decide they had better not mess with it, you’re probably doing something right.


Comments are closed.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.