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Three Suspects Charged in Theft of 1 Billion Email Addresses

Three individuals were indicted last week for their alleged role in what is said to be one of the largest data breaches in U.S. history. The incident even made the subject of a Congressional inquiry in 2011.

Three individuals were indicted last week for their alleged role in what is said to be one of the largest data breaches in U.S. history. The incident even made the subject of a Congressional inquiry in 2011.

Two Vietnamese nationals and a Canadian citizen have been accused of taking part in a money-making scheme that involved 1 billion stolen email addresses and affiliate marketing programs.

According to US authorities, Viet Quoc Nguyen, 28, obtained the email addresses and other confidential information after hacking into the systems of at least eight email service providers in the United States between February 2009 and June 2012. With the aid of Giang Hoang Vu, 25, Nguyen used the addresses to send out spam messages to tens of millions of Internet users.

The Vietnamese citizens made a profit by teaming up with David-Manuel Santos Da Silva, a 33-year-old Canadian who co-owned and operated 21 Celsius Inc., a corporation that ran the website Marketbay.com. Nguyen and Da Silva entered an affiliate marketing agreement in which the former sent out spam emails containing links to products marketed on Marketbay.com. Nguyen earned a commission for the traffic he directed to Da Silva’s websites.

Nguyen and Da Silva are believed to have made roughly $2 million between May 2009 and October 2011 through their operation.

Vu was arrested in the Netherlands in 2012 and extradited to the United States one year ago. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud on February 5 and he will be sentenced on April 21. Da Silva was arrested last month at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Nguyen is a fugitive, the Department of Justice said.

“This case reflects the cutting-edge problems posed by today’s cybercrime cases, where the hackers didn’t target just a single company; they infiltrated most of the country’s email distribution firms,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia. “And the scope of the intrusion is unnerving, in that the hackers didn’t stop after stealing the companies’ proprietary data—they then hijacked the companies’ own distribution platforms to send out bulk emails and reaped the profits from email traffic directed to specific websites.”

The government hasn’t named any of the targeted email service providers, but Brian Krebs reports that one of them is Epsilon, one of the world’s largest permission-based email marketing companies. The Epsilon breach affected numerous major brands, including several financial institutions.

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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