Atlanta cybercrime experts investigating Equifax hack

ATLANTA — The federal investigators looking into the breach that exposed personal information maintained by the Equifax credit report company are used to dealing with high-profile hacks and the challenges they present. 

The U.S. attorney’s office and FBI in Atlanta have prosecuted developers and promoters of the SpyEye and Citadel malware toolkits, used to infect computers and steal banking information. They’ve helped prosecute a hack into Scottrade and ETrade that was part of an identity theft scheme, and aided the international effort that in July shut down AlphaBay, the world’s largest online criminal marketplace.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has confirmed that, along with the FBI, it is investigating the breach at Atlanta-based Equifax, which the company said lasted from mid-May to July and exposed the data of 145 million Americans. Neither agency would discuss Equifax, but their cybercrime teams shared insights about the difficulties of cybercrime cases.

“They are challenging, and the success stories are rare,” said prosecutor Steven Grimberg, who leads the Atlanta U.S. attorney’s office cybercrime unit, created last year to fight the growing threat. For every conviction there may be 10 times as many that don’t end successfully, he said.

Atlanta has become a hub for cybercrime prosecution in large part because of a proactive and aggressive local FBI team, and because U.S. attorneys have committed the necessary resources in recent years, Grimberg said.

Who’s behind the keyboard?

Identifying who’s responsible is a key difficulty: Cybercriminals use aliases and operate on the dark web, in corners of the internet reached using special software, where access is invite-only. 

Investigators have infiltrated some of these online forums and can sometimes engage cybercriminals there, said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Chad Hunt, who oversees one of FBI Atlanta’s cyber investigation squads. Once they obtain some information, they can use search warrants to get other…

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