Swiss infosecurity and computer forensics company High-Tech Bridge carried out the research recently and found that 311,095 user credentials – comprising log-in and password pairs – for various services, websites and emails have been compromised on Pastebin.
Set up in 2007, the website is primarily designed for storing text for a certain period of time, but has more recently been adopted by hackers to reveal, as just a few examples, compromised account details from Comcast, the FBI, Tesco and the Singapore government.
The firm adds that each leak record on Pastebin contains 1,000 user credentials, but – intriguingly – suggests that most leaks are from hactivists who post personal data and passwords of law enforcement and security agencies, just to show that it is possible.
Company CEO Ilia Kolochenko told SCMagazineUK.com that hackers primarily take to Pastebin to show off their expertise, rather than for direct financial gain, and often belong to hactivisim groups like Anonymous and LulzSec. “It's a proof of concept; they'd like to show that they've hacked someone.”
The company went on to note: “The posts are in effect, adverts for the attackers' capabilities”.
Researchers found that compromised details were across all sectors, while Kolochenko himself noted that some hackers compromise accounts for financial gain. For instance, he said that some would extort money by threatening to publicise private data, but would require only a “reasonable” amount of money so that the victim wouldn't involve any law enforcement.
It turns out that while hackers adopt an array of attach techniques – from phishing to social engineering – to compromise an attack, email services like Gmail are the first port of call, as they often tie to banking services and other password-protected websites.
Indeed, email systems were the highest source of a leak at 40.9 percent, with Gmail the most compromised email account with 25.1 percent. The reason why is simple, according to Kolochenko.
“Gmail today is the most popular free email service and it's used by millions of people. Many people who have Gmail also do things like online shopping and online banking,” he said, before adding that Google itself has improved security measures with things like SMS authentication.
“But it's not a Gmail problem…it's the people who are using Gmail.”