Russian criminals have stolen 1.2 billion Internet user names and passwords, amassing what could be the largest collection of stolen digital credentials in history, a respected security firm said Tuesday.
The news was first reported by The New York Times, which cited research from Milwaukee-based Hold Security. The firm didn't reveal the identities of the targeted websites, citing nondisclosure agreements and a desire to prevent existing vulnerabilities from being more widely exploited.
Hold Security founder Alex Holden told CNNMoney that the trove includes credentials gathered from over 420,000 websites - both smaller sites as well as "household names." The criminals didn't breach any major email providers, he said.
Holden said the gang makes its money by sending out spam for bogus products like weight-loss pills, and had apparently amassed its collection of digital credentials for that relatively innocuous purpose.
"It's really not that impactful to the individuals, and that's why they were under the radar for so long," Holden said. "They've ignored financial information almost completely."
But Holden said the gang's success at amassing passwords demonstrates that weak security procedures are common on websites of all sizes.
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