The FBI is closing in on a hacker linked to the CyberVor criminal gang responsible for the theft of 1.2 billion internet records and up to 500 million email addresses.
Milwaukee-based security firm Hold Security revealed last year that an operation carried out by cyber criminals in Russia had resulted in the loss of sensitive data from 420,000 different websites.
A lone hacker known to authorities as ‘mr.grey' or ‘mistergrey' has now been linked to the cyber gang through a Russian email address, according to federal documents seen by Reuters.
The log-ins, which include details for Facebook and Twitter, were reportedly harvested using botnets set up to scour the internet for sites with SQL injection flaws.
"Through the underground black market, CyberVor got access to data from botnet networks. These botnets used victims' systems to identify SQL vulnerabilities on the sites they visited," explained Hold Security in August last year.
"CyberVor did not differentiate between small or large sites. They didn't just target large companies, they targeted every site that their victims visited."
Hold Security started a ‘breach notification service' after the discovery, charging $120 to websites wanting to be notified if the gang attempted to exploit their systems or networks.
The news piqued the interest of the FBI, which started an official investigation into the gang and eventually uncovered posts on an underground hacking forum linked to the breach.
Reuters said that the FBI found lists of domain names and utilities believed to be used to send spam, also linked to ‘mr.grey'.
Dave Palmer, director of technology at security firm Darktrace, told V3 that CyberVor uses its botnet in a unique way to exploit a wide range of websites.
"Botnets typically harness their scale to attack an individual target, such as taking computer games consoles down last Christmas. In this mission, they have been used to scan websites all around the world for weaknesses," he said.
"Many of the computers that are being exploited will belong to businesses too, which do not necessarily realise the impact of this kind of attack and the knock-on effect on the internet at large.
"Either way, the worrying part is that we are still getting caught out by these attacks."
Most recently, an investigation into the TalkTalk attack found that an SQL injection flaw was exploited to gain access to millions of sensitive customer records.
Concerns have also been raised about the sheer scope of stolen data now being collected by countries including Russia and China for intelligence purposes.
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago