Security Experts:

Morningstar Data Breach Impacted 184,000 Clients

Morningstar, a financial investment house headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, with operations spanning 27 countries, recently disclosed that a data breach occurred last year that impacted 184,000 of its customers. 

The investment firm disclosed some of the details surrounding the breach in their 8-K filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In their most recent report, under the heading asking for details on the cause, timing, and nature of a recently reported security breach, Morningstar said that the breach happened in April 2012.

In further statements to the media, additional clarifying details were shared including the fact that the breach was discovered this past May, with notifications to affected customers going out in June. The breach impacted the Morningstar Document Research (MDR) system, which allows customers to search through SEC filings, as well as gain additional investment insight via various research tools. 

According to the 8-K report, which can be seen here, the MDR breach exposed names, addresses, email addresses, passwords and credit card numbers. Internal incident response concluded that of the 184,300 accounts that were impacted, only 2,300 customers actually had their credit card details exposed. 

While Morningstar says the financial impact to the company with regards to recovery is minimal, the reality is that more than 180,000 people are now known to scammers as "whales". They have investment capital and they likely have liquid assets that can be churned and burned on the criminal markets.

Morningstar has offered the 2,300 customers credit monitoring, but the real value of these records will come long after the free year of coverage expires. At best, the criminals know that each person is good for at least $432.00, the cost of one-year’s worth of MDR access at the lowest level. However, the middle tier plan is $802.00, while the top plan is worth $1,379.00.

The credit cards can be sold for about $5-10 a record, those come cheap on the criminal market. The value is the names, addresses, email accounts, and passwords used by 184,000 confirmed investors. The criminal(s) behind this attack would know the value of the data they were targeting, because only serious investors would spend so much money on publically available data in easy to navigate form.

“Earlier this year, we shut down the old servers and moved the data to a more secure infrastructure as part of a migration plan for MDR unrelated to this incident. We have taken additional steps to prevent unauthorized access to our systems to protect client information,” the 8-K filing reports, explaining what was done during the aftermath of the breach’s discovery.

Morningstar would not disclose the nature of the breach, of explain if the attacker(s) might have targeted a flaw that was central to the system’s migration plans. It’s understandable why they would withhold such details, it’s embarrassing, but it might be useful to other security professionals who don’t want to face the same problems.

“At this point, we don't have any evidence to suggest that any of the information that was compromised has been misused, and we don't believe any other Morningstar products were affected. To date the costs involved in addressing this issue have not been material,” the breach section of the 8-K concludes.

Again, the cost to recover from this incident may have not been material for Morningstar, but that might not be the case for an investor who isn’t up to speed on the latest Internet-based threats. While the victimized clients were all warned to avoid Phishing emails related to the compromised data, who among them will be looking for such attacks this time next year?

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.