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Researchers Track Journey of Data Across Cyber Underground

Ever wonder how quickly stolen data is accessed once it hits the Dark Web? Researchers at Bitglass decided to find out.

Ever wonder how quickly stolen data is accessed once it hits the Dark Web? Researchers at Bitglass decided to find out.

As an experiment, the firm created a sample of fake personal data and presented it on underground forums as though it was stolen. The researchers then tracked the data as it traversed the globe, crossing five continents and 22 countries within two weeks. Overall, the data was viewed more than 1,000 times and downloaded 47, in some cases by people believed to have connections to criminal organizations in Nigeria and Russia.

Bitglass conducted the experiment by programmatically synthesizing 1,568 fake names, social security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses and phone numbers and saving them in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was then transmitted through the Bitglass proxy, which automatically watermarked the file. Each time the file was opened, the watermark called home to record viewer information such as the IP address, geographic location and device type. After that, the spreadsheet was posted anonymously to cybercrime marketplaces on the Dark Web.

“Once sensitive data has been stolen, there is no limit to how far that data will travel, and how many different people will get their virtual hands on it,” Bitglass notes in a report disclosing the experiment’s results. “Although the level of access after just 12 days was extraordinary; imagine how much further the data would spread in 205 days, the average time it takes for enterprises to detect a corporate data breach.”

Rich Campagna, vice president of products at Bitglass, told SecurityWeek that the data was accessed more quickly and more widely than expected, indicating the market for stolen data is “very liquid.”

“All of the data was carefully generated to look real,” he said. “For example, all credit card numbers followed the same format used by major credit card companies – that baits them into accessing the data. The next step prior to a sale would be sampling the data to ensure validity of the credit card numbers – since the numbers, names, and addresses were fake, the data wouldn’t pass this second step.”

The falsified data was placed on DropBox as well as seven Dark Web sites believed to be used by cyber-criminals, according to Bitglass.

“This experiment demonstrates the liquidity of breached data, underscoring the importance of discovering data breaches early,” said Nat Kausik, CEO at Bitglass, in a statement. “

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