Free credit report site appears to be source for celebrity data

Beyonce looks out at the photographers as she comes backstage to pose with her award for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 55th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 10, 2013. Credit: Image credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Hackers successfully answered a series of questions, enabling them to download reports, according to a source

A website that provides U.S. consumers with a free annual credit report appears to have been the source used by hackers to download those of celebrities including Beyoncé and government officials including Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller.

On Tuesday, a website called "Exposed.su" published Social Security Numbers, previous addresses, and birthdates of a range of well-known people, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Jay Z, Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Hulk Hogan, Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, among others. In the hacker world, the practice is known as "doxing."

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agency is investigating the breach. All told, hackers released information on 20 people, but credit reports were not available for every victim.

Some of the personal data included credit reports from TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, the three main U.S. credit-rating agencies. Equifax spokesman Tim Klein said the source for the credit reports appears to be "Annualcreditreport.com" and not the result of a breach of the credit reporting agencies' databases.

Annualcreditreport.com was set up by the three credit agencies to allow consumers to download a free credit report annually, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The website, which is managed by a company based in Atlanta called Central Source, could not be immediately reached.

Consumers are asked as many as six specific questions related to recent payments in order to gain access to their report, such as how much their mortgage payment is or the last payment made on a credit card they hold.

In this breach, it appears the hackers nailed all of those questions accurately for some of the victims, indicating they may have access to other sources of information on victims as well. According to dates on the credit reports, several had been pulled in the last few days.

"This is really detailed information," Klein said. "It appears that some fraudsters were able to get this sort of personally identifiable information on some celebrities and therefore were able to go through this website and access some elements of their credit report."

Identity thieves are known to do meticulous research on their victims, but often a surprising amount of personal detail is often freely available online.

Klein said it has been confirmed four people had their information accessed through Annualcreditreports.com, but some of the published information is inaccurate.

TransUnion said in a statement its systems were not hacked. The fraudsters had "considerable amounts of information about the victims" already, which enabled them to illegally access the credit reports, it said.

"TransUnion is taking steps to assist the individuals affected to help minimize any potential impact," the company said. "We are conducting our own internal investigation and working closely with law enforcement."

Exposed.su has a country code top-level domain of ".su," which was assigned to the former Soviet Union but is still in use. Those running the website appeared to be using CloudFlare, a San Francisco-based company that provides a worldwide network of data centers intended to speed the delivery of web pages and reduce bandwidth. It was unclear which company is providing hosting services.

A Twitter feed for Exposed.su has already been suspended. The two posts on the feed appeared to be written in Russian, according to a snapshot from Google's cache.

The tag line for the Exposed.su site, which was still up as of Tuesday evening, read: "If you believe that God makes miracles, you have to wonder if Satan has a few up his sleeve."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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