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Capital One Had to Be Told by Outsider That Data Breach Occurred

Capital One got hacked and didn't even know it.

Larry Loeb

July 30, 2019

3 Min Read

Capital One Financial Corp. is the US's fifth-largest credit card issuer. It announced Monday that "an outside individual [had] obtained certain types of personal information relating to people who had applied for its credit card products and to Capital One credit card customers." The breach affected 100 million people in the United States, and 6 million in Canada.

The company also said in the statement that "This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income."

There's more. The company went on to say, "Beyond the credit card application data, the individual also obtained portions of credit card customer data, including: Customer status data, e.g., credit scores, credit limits, balances, payment history, contact information; Fragments of transaction data from a total of 23 days during 2016, 2017 and 2018."

While the data had been encrypted, the attacker was able to decrypt it.

The Department of Justice announced that Paige A. Thompson, 33, also known online as "erratic," had been arrested for the breach. The DOJ also said in the announcement that "The intrusion occurred through a misconfigured web application firewall that enabled access to the data. On July 17, 2019, a GitHub user who saw the post [announcing that Capital One had been breached by her] alerted Capital One to the possibility it had suffered a data theft." Before this user reported it, Capital One was unaware anything was amiss. Thompson worked for Amazon, where the files were hosted in an S3 bucket. This makes Capital's endorsement of Amazon's cloud storage somewhat ironic.

Giora Omer, head of security architecture at Panorays, told Security Now that "An interesting aspect to consider in this breach is that Capital One also serves as a supplier for businesses. It has an outstanding security team and the highest standards and methodologies in cybersecurity, particularly in the cloud. Therefore, this breach illustrates how every company is vulnerable -- it could be a large, small, critical or low risk supplier. Companies working with suppliers need to make sure of the security standards put in place at the consumer, the type of data that they are sharing with that supplier and how to mitigate risk in case the supplier is breached. Hopefully for Capital One, the different controls put in place, including bounty programs and tokenizing sensitive data, will prevent this breach from becoming 'Equifax 2.' "

Felix Rosbach, product manager at comforte AG, also had comments on the tokenization that was used by Capital One. "Fortunately, Capital One used tokenization to protect social security numbers and account numbers," he said. "As this is a different approach to data security -- ideally not involving the distribution of keys -- the tokenized data remained protected. However, recent tokenization technology could have been used to protect not only social security numbers and account numbers but also personal information, customer status data and transaction data."

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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