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Hackers post public figures' personal data online

Those targeted on a website with Russian links include First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and celebrities Beyonce and Britney Spears.

March 12, 2013|Times Staff and Wire Reports
  • First Lady Michelle Obama is among the public figures whose personal and financial information was breached.
First Lady Michelle Obama is among the public figures whose personal and… (M. Spencer Green / Associated…)

First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck were among a high-powered roster of public figures whose personal and financial information was posted on the Internet.

The data, which include purported home addresses, Social Security numbers, phone numbers and credit reports, appeared on a website that seemed to originate in Russia.

The Secret Service and the FBI said Tuesday that they were opening investigations, and President Obama confirmed the apparent breach.

"We should not be surprised that if we've got hackers that want to dig in and have a lot of resources, that they can access this information," Obama said in an interview with ABC News. "Again, not sure how accurate but … you've got websites out there that tell people's credit card info. That's how sophisticated they are."

Other victims included pop stars Beyonce and Britney Spears, rapper Jay-Z, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., FBI chief Robert S. Mueller III, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The accuracy of the data was unclear. ABC News reported that it had called a number listed for Biden that turned out to belong to a business in Delaware.

But Social Security numbers posted for Jay-Z, Mel Gibson and others matched records in public databases. Social Security numbers are not public records, although they used to be included in some court filings. Now, many courts require that they be redacted because the numbers can be used to steal a person's identity and open credit accounts in their name.

The mysterious website grew from 11 names to 20 in the first 24 hours since it became public, with its operator adding additional features to count the number of visitors and a link to a Twitter account. It offers no explanation about why the targets were selected or how the information was obtained. The Twitter account includes an anti-police message in Russian.

Equifax Inc. and TransUnion Corp. said they were looking into the incident.

"We are aware of recent media reports pertaining to unauthorized access to files belonging to high-profile individuals," Equifax said in a statement sent to Bloomberg. "Equifax can confirm that fraudulent and unauthorized access to four consumer credit reports has occurred."

Beck told The Times that local officials also were investigating.

"We'll take steps to find out who did this, and if they're within the boundaries of the United States, we'll prosecute them," he said.

Beck speculated that he was targeted because of the recent Christopher Dorner saga. Dorner, a fired LAPD officer, killed two police officers and two others last month during a bloody campaign to seek revenge for his firing.

Before he died in a standoff with authorities, Dorner in an online manifesto praised the network of hackers known as Anonymous.

Many people claiming affiliation with the group have voiced support for Dorner on Twitter and in other Web forums.

The mysterious website's page on Beck includes a reference to Dorner with the message, "YouCantCornerTheDorner" and an image of a woman protesting police corruption.

Times staff writers Joel Rubin and Shelby Grad in Los Angeles and Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press.

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