Yahoo: Hackers stole info in 500M accounts

Brian Womack
Bloomberg News

Yahoo! Inc. said the personal information of at least 500 million users was stolen in an attack on its accounts in 2014, exposing a wide swath of its roughly 1 billion users ahead of Verizon Communications Inc.’s planned acquisition of the web portal’s assets.

The attacker was a “state-sponsored actor,” and stolen information may include names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, encrypted passwords and, in some cases, un-encrypted security questions and answers, Yahoo said Thursday in a statement. The investigation doesn’t indicate theft of payment card data or bank account information, or unprotected passwords, the company said. Affected users are being notified, accounts are being secured, and there’s no evidence the attacker is still in Yahoo’s network, it also said.

“Yahoo is working closely with law enforcement on this matter,” the company said in the statement. “Online intrusions and thefts by state-sponsored actors have become increasingly common across the technology industry.”

The confirmation that accounts were compromised came almost two months after the company said it was investigating claims that a hacker was offering to sell user account details stolen in a data breach. The same hacker, who previously sold data taken from LinkedIn and MySpace, posted information from 200 million Yahoo accounts on a dark web marketplace, Motherboard reported in early August. The stolen information being offered was most likely from 2012, Motherboard reported, citing the hacker who uses the name Peace.

“All of this compromised information is very useful for criminals in order to hijack user identities and use them for fraudulent purposes,” Avivah Litan, an analyst with Gartner, said. “Identity impersonation has become a global criminal epidemic and there are no simple solutions.”

Yahoo is encouraging users to review their accounts for suspicious activity and to change their password and security questions — along with answers for other online accounts where they use the same or similar information. The company also recommends users avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails.

Many of the stolen accounts in a sample of data obtained by Motherboard were no longer in use and had been canceled. The sale of all of the data for just under $2,000 suggested much of the information was obsolete, made up or useless because the hackers had already attacked legitimate accounts.