IT breach big­ger than first thought, 334K vic­tims: US


A com­puter breach at the U.S. tax col­lect­ing agency in which thieves stole tax in­for­ma­tion from thou­sands of taxpayers is much big­ger than the agency orig­i­nally dis­closed.

An ad­di­tional 220,000 po­ten­tial vic­tims had in­for­ma­tion stolen from an In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice (IRS) web­site as part of a so­phis­ti­cated scheme to use stolen iden­ti­ties to claim fraud­u­lent tax re­funds, the IRS said Mon­day. The rev­e­la­tion more than dou­bles the to­tal num­ber of po­ten­tial vic­tims, to 334,000.

The breach also started ear­lier than in­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially thought. The tax agency first dis­closed the breach in May.

The thieves ac­cessed a sys­tem called “Get Tran­script,” where taxpayers can get tax re­turns and other fil­ings from pre­vi­ous years. In or­der to ac­cess the in­for­ma­tion, the thieves cleared a se­cu­rity screen that re­quired knowl­edge about the tax­payer, in­clud­ing fed­eral pen­sion iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber, date of birth, tax fil­ing sta­tus and street ad­dress, the IRS said.

The per­sonal in­for­ma­tion was pre­sum­ably stolen from other sources. The IRS be­lieves the thieves were ac­cess­ing the IRS web­site to get even more in­forma- tion about the taxpayers, which could help them claim fraud­u­lent tax re­funds in the fu­ture.

In all, the thieves used per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from about 610,000 taxpayers in an ef­fort to ac­cess old tax re­turns. They were suc­cess­ful in get­ting in­for­ma­tion from about 334,000 taxpayers.

The IRS isn’t the first U. S. agency — public or pri­vate — to ini­tially un­der­es­ti­mate the mag­ni­tude of a data breach. The Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment an­nounced ear­lier this year that hack­ers had stolen sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion on 4.2 mil­lion peo­ple. The num­ber of af­fected peo­ple has since grown to more than 21 mil­lion.

The IRS said it is no­ti­fy­ing all po­ten­tial vic­tims and of­fer­ing free credit mon­i­tor­ing ser­vices. The IRS is also of­fer­ing to en­roll po­ten­tial vic­tims in a pro­gram that as­signs them spe­cial ID num­bers that they must use to file their tax re­turns.

The IRS said Mon­day that thieves started tar­get­ing the web­site in Novem­ber. Orig­i­nally, in­ves­ti­ga­tors thought it started in Fe­bru­ary. The web­site was shut down in May.

On Mon­day, the IRS did not iden­tify a po­ten­tial source of the crime. But in May, of­fi­cials said IRS in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve the iden­tity thieves are part of a so­phis­ti­cated crim­i­nal op­er­a­tion based in Rus­sia.

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