Pursuit of Hackers Who Took Credit Reports Expands

WASHINGTON (AP) -

The pursuit of hackers who audaciously stole and published credit reports for Michelle Obama, the attorney general, FBI director and other U.S. politicians and celebrities crisscrossed continents and included a San Francisco-based Internet company, Cloudflare, The Associated Press has learned.

The sensational crime caught the attention of Congress and President Barack Obama, who said “we should not be surprised.”

Obama said he could not confirm that the first lady’s credit report was published earlier this week on a Russian website, along with what appeared to be the credit reports of nearly two dozen others, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and among some others.

If accurate as widely suspected, the leaked records put each victim at significant risk of identity theft. Included in the reports are Social Security numbers, dates of birth and a list of previous home addresses. The records also include such personal information as the first lady’s monthly payments on a student loan 10 years ago and that she once held a Banana Republic credit card.

The president said determined hackers are a persistent threat.

“We should not be surprised that if you’ve got hackers who want to dig in and devote a lot of resources, that they can access people’s private information,” Obama told ABC News in an interview. “It is a big problem.”

On Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee cited the breach Wednesday at a congressional hearing about the government prosecuting hackers. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the leaks of financial information was “just the beginning of the problem” when it comes to the vulnerability of U.S. computer networks. Goodlatte said the U.S. has billions of dollars at stake, as foreign hackers try to steal sensitive information from businesses.

“The truth is that all citizens are vulnerable to these kinds of cyberattacks,” Goodlatte said.

A spokesman for one of the largest U.S. credit bureaus, Tim Klein of Equifax, said an initial investigation showed that hackers used a website designed to give consumers a free credit report. The hackers apparently used personal details about their victims to impersonate them and generate the credit reports.

Representatives for Experian, Equifax and TransUnion have all said they were cooperating with the U.S. criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI and Secret Service.