Citigroup Confirms Customer Accounts Hacked

Thursday, Citigroup confirmed that some customer account information was accessed by hackers. The attack affected only about 1 percent of customers. But still, it's another example of hackers breaking into companies that are supposed to be super secure. Recently, data storage company EMC Ltd had to replace millions of electronic keys, Sony faced several attacks, Google got hit, and now Citigroup. Is anything hack proof?

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

It seems to keep happening. CitiGroup is the latest victim in a string attacks by hackers on major corporations, including Google and Sony. Today, CitiGroup alerted customers that it recently discovered what it calls unauthorized access to some of the customers' accounts.

NPR's Nina Gregory reports that the security breach was limited, but it is significant.

NINA GREGORY: Just one percent, or about 210,000 Citi North America bankcard customer accounts were compromised, the bank says. In a statement it emailed today, Citi said names, account numbers and contact information were, quote, "viewed." Social Security Numbers, birth dates and those little security numbers on the back of your credit card were not.

Even if the scope of the snooping was limited, this latest data breach is part of a larger trend. That's according to Joris Evers, a security expert at McAfee, a cyber security company here in California.

Mr. JORIS EVERS (Security Expert, McAfee): Ten years ago, cyber attacks were all about, you know, teenagers looking for notoriety, basically putting the digital equivalent of graffiti on people's websites. Today, we really see cyber criminals go after money.

And they're going after where the money is. And, you know, where is money and where is financial information? Well, it's at banks. You know, it's at the IRS. It's at online stores and anyplace where you might put in your credit card number or your personal information.

GREGORY: These types of attacks are enough of a threat that FBI Director Robert Mueller brought them up at his reconfirmation hearing at the Senate yesterday. Preventing attacks like the recent one on Google, Mueller said, is an FBI priority right along with national security, terrorism and espionage.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, FBI): These attacks threaten to undermine the integrity of the Internet and to victimize the business and people who rely on it.

GREGORY: Cyber security expert Evers agrees and explains the scope of the threat of cyber attacks.

Mr. EVERS: Some of the major concern these days is about the security of critical infrastructure systems. So there are legitimate concerns about whether somebody, an adversary from even outside of the United States, could impact our power generation, for example, or, you know, the financial markets, through a cyber attack.

GREGORY: For now, though, security experts say while banks need to be vigilant about their security, so, too do bank customers. So says Gerry Egan, a security expert at Symantec.

Mr. GERRY EGAN (Security Expert, Symantec): If we ourselves as individuals don't take precautions about, you know, having security software, for example, installed on our machines at home, perhaps we're leaving ourselves open to compromise. Similarly, organizations want to open themselves up to allow their customers to do business with them, but they have to be aware of the risks associated with that and take appropriate measures.

GREGORY: So, if you plan to bank or pay bills or shop online, it's the same message as always: Have anti-virus software; make sure your passwords are strong; and safely stored somewhere like on a piece of paper in your wallet. And for consumers who have actually had money stolen from them as a result of a data breach like Citi's, the money is recoverable, though the time spent trying to get it back is not.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

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