Financial Data for Multiple Companies Dumped Online in Failed Extortion Bid

Potential victims reportedly include Oracle, Volkswagen, Airbus and Porsche.

5 Min Read

Potentially sensitive financial data belonging to an unknown number of customers of Citycomp, a German provider of multi-vendor maintenance and infrastructure services to many large organizations, has been leaked publicly following the company's refusal to accede to a cyber-extortion attempt.

Motherboard earlier on Tuesday said it had learned of attackers breaking into Citycomp's network, stealing customer data, and threatening to release the data publicly if certain demands were not met.

Motherboard said it had seen a website the attackers had purportedly set up to publicly release the stolen data. Information on the site suggested the attacker had obtained data belonging to several Citycomp clients including large companies such as Airbus, Volkswagen, Oracle, Toshiba and Porcshe. The attackers claimed they were in possession of 312,570 files in just over 51,000 folders, representing some 516 GBs of data in total, Motherboard reports.

In an emailed statement to Dark Reading, Michael Bartsch, crisis manager for Citycomp said the attackers have since published the stolen data. "Since Citycomp does not comply with blackmail the publication of customer data could not be prevented," the statement said. "The stolen data has now been published by the perpetrators and Citycomp's customers were informed about it," Bartsch said.

Citycomp's statement did not elaborate on the kind of information that the attackers had published or to which of its customers the data belonged. Motherboard had previously noted that its inspection of the attacker website suggested that a lot of the files contained financial and private data belonging to Citycomp customers.

According to Bartsch, Citycomp was the victim of a targeted attack that appears to have taken place in early April 2019. A still unknown perpetrator stole customer data and threatened to publish the data should Citycomp not comply with the attacker's demands. The statement does not make any mention of what exactly the attackers wanted.

"Citycomp with the help and support of external experts and the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Württemberg successfully fended off the attack and implemented supplementary security measures of all systems," the statement said. The company has also implemented additional measures to prevent such attacks in future, the statement said without specifying the measures.

Online Extortion Economy

The attack on Citycomp is an example of what some say is a continuing trend by attackers to extort exterprises by stealing sensitive customer and proprietary business data then threatening to dump it publicly. Companies face substantial reputational and financial risk from such attacks and the additional danger of running afoul of regulations like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation.

In 2017, Netflix had to contend with attackers releasing 10 unaired episodes of its series "Orange is the New Black" after the company refused to pay a ransom to the attackers who stole the data from a post-production company.

"Criminals are always looking for ways to make more money," says Richard Gold, director of security engineering at Digital Shadows, which recently published a report on the growth in online extortion scams. "These extortion scams targeting organizations, rather than individuals, are an opportunity for criminals to get a bigger payout," he says.

In some cases, attackers are turning to a crowd-sourced model to make money off their stolen data. "A recent example was a threat actor known as 'The Dark Overlord' who stole files related to the 9/11 attacks and claimed that they would release the files if they collected enough money from individuals online," Gold notes. Another example is the ShadowBrokers threat group, which in 2017 said would publicly release a large tranche of secret NSA cyberweapons if it managed to raise a certain amount of money online.

Digital Shadows' study found that extortion scams are being fueled by the easy availability of ready-made extortion material on criminal forums. According to the company, the materials, which include blackmail guides and manuals, make it easy even for novice cybercriminals to profit from online extortion.

In many cases, attackers are actively trying to recruit new talent to the cybercrime industry, and offering big payouts. In one instance Digital Shadows said it came across a threat actor willing to pay the equivalent of $768,000 per year to people with network management, programming, and penetration testing skills.

Tim Bandos, vice president of cybersecurity at Digital Guardian says the Citycomp compromise also underscores the tremendous amount of trust that companies place in third-party vendors to host and store their sensitive or confidential information.

"While it’s too early to determine the entrance vector used by the Citycomp attackers, in most cases, there is some lack of fundamental controls that could’ve prevented this type of incident from occurring," he says. Hosting companies are attractive targets for cyber extortionists because of the potential access they provide to multiple organizations.

"However, their success depends on whether or not the breached companies acquiesce to their demands."

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About the Author(s)

Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year career at Computerworld, Jai also covered a variety of other technology topics, including big data, Hadoop, Internet of Things, e-voting, and data analytics. Prior to Computerworld, Jai covered technology issues for The Economic Times in Bangalore, India. Jai has a Master's degree in Statistics and lives in Naperville, Ill.

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