Experts: Target Hackers Will Be Tough To Find

It doesn't surprise experts that some debit and credit card numbers stolen from Target's computer systems may have surfaced among nearly 100 fake credit cards seized by police in Texas this week.

Even so, they say the bust is unlikely to lead authorities directly to the hackers behind the breach, given the vast, labyrinthine nature of the global market for stolen data.

According to police in McAllen, Texas, two Mexican citizens arrested at the border used account information stolen during the pre- Christmas Target breach to buy tens of thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise. But the U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday its investigation into the possibility of a link between the Target data theft and the arrests remains ongoing.

Target says hackers stole about 40 million debit and credit card numbers from cards swiped at its stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. The thieves also took personal information -- including email addresses, phone numbers, names and home addresses -- for another 70 million people.

In the aftermath of the breach, millions of Americans have been left to wonder what's become of their precious personal information. Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser for the computer security firm Sophos, says in cases where such a massive amount of information is stolen, criminals generally divide the data into chunks and sell the parcels in online black markets.

In many ways, those markets behave much like any legitimate marketplace ruled by the forces of supply and demand. Groups of higher-end cards are worth significantly more than those with lower credit limits and so are cards tied to additional personal information, such as names, addresses and zip codes, which make them easier to use.

After thieves purchase the numbers, they can encode the data onto new, blank cards with an inexpensive, easy-to-use gadget. Or they can skip the card-writing process...

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