Incident of the Week: Ever-Growing Breach Involving Passwords for Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Earthlink and Comcast

What started out as an incident involving the leak of 10,000 user names and passwords for Windows Live Hotmail accounts continues to grow, both in terms of users and companies affected.  According to reports from the beginning of the week, more than 10,000 user names and passwords from Hotmail were posted by an anonymous user on the site  The list was limited to accounts starting in A and B, leaving the fear that numerous more accounts had been affected.  The original reports speculated that the breach was the result of a hack of Hotmail or a phishing attack.  But more information is surfacing that indicates that the breach is much larger than many first thought.

Subsequent reports have revealed that as many as 20,000 accounts have been compromised across numerous email providers, including Yahoo, AOL, Comcast, Earthlink and others, and that .  These reports noted that the affected companies believed that the breaches occurred because of phishing attacks (although one researcher, Mary Landesman, who works for ScanSafe, has said that “it’s more likely that the massive lists . . . were harvested by botnets that infected PCs with keylogging or data stealing Trojan horses.”

As more details emerge, it seems that more questions remain to be answered.  Exactly how many passwords have been compromised, and from how many companies?  Was the breach due to a single massive phishing attack, multiple smaller fishing attacks, or some type of malware? Why were lists of affected users posted online?  Whatever the answers, it might be a good idea to take a few minutes to change your email passwords from a computer that has been swept for viruses and malware.



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