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Monster.com Gets Hacked Again, Data Stolen

For the second time in as many weeks, after a breach at Heartland Payment Systems, a company storing a large volume of personal data has been hit by a major theft. This time the hack target was leading employment Web site Monster.com, which hosts millions of resumes.

The company reported on Friday that hackers apparently accessed its customer database. They illegally accessed and stole an unspecified number of Monster.com user IDs and passwords, names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

The hackers may have used a modus operandi similar to the one used against Heartland last week, observers say. The Monster.com hackers didn't get credit card information, but the stolen information could be used to abet a credit card scam.

For instance, in 2007, antivirus software giant Symantec Corp. described an automated and malicious Trojan-horse program that it dubbed Infostealer.Monstres. The bug was used to hack into Monster.com employer accounts and cross-reference that data to some 1.6 million Monster.com users.

Security experts now contend that with Monster.com getting hit twice inside two years and Heartland being gaffled (or ripped off) last week, the biggest infraction here may not be theft but apathy among certain enterprises.

"It's not the lack of capability, it's the lack of will," said Phil Lieberman, president of security application and service firm Lieberman Software. "Monster is a typical example of a gen-y company striving for comfort instead of a business advantage through security."

Lieberman noted that this incident was the first time that Monster.com had publicly announced such a theft. A previous data theft at Monster.com was disclosed by the British media. He recommended that Monster.com implement compartmentalization of its critical and not-so-critical information assets.

"This is gross incompetence, and what I would ask is who were the auditors and security consultants working with Monster? That's a problem too," he added. "There's no money in the cure but there's plenty of money in the treatment, and even though it generates revenue and billable hours, it doesn't solve the problem. This is clearly what happened here."

For its part, Monster.com has sent notices to their users indicating that their databases were illegally accessed. However, the company didn't reveal how and why the breach may have occurred or how many records were stolen. Going forward, the challenges for enterprises are going to be not only protecting information but also massaging the PR while not spooking customers or shareholders.

Experts say Heartland and Monster.com are just the beginning of a trend.

"We are seeing an increase in targeted attacks and will continue to see an upward tick in 2009 as more hackers eye information; data is king," said Don Leatham, senior director of solutions & strategy at Lumension. "We'll see attacks being handled inside the network and we'll see less attacks coming through the gateway."

Leatham and others predict that there will be an increase in attacks using uncontrolled, removable portable devices and media, something that could become the Achilles' heel of some enterprises when it comes to preventing data theft and loss.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.

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