Home  › Email › Email Marketing

Epsilon's Security Breach Exposes Troubling Trend

  |  April 5, 2011   |  Comments

Hackers intensify attacks on service providers in recent months, seeking to steal customer email addresses and more.

"Important message from Target," read the subject line of the email sent to Target customers Monday. "Target's email service provider, Epsilon, recently informed us that their data system was exposed to unauthorized entry. As a result, your email address may have been accessed by an unauthorized party," the message stated.

Notes like these were delivered to an undisclosed number customers of an estimated 50 companies, including Target, Chase, Marriott, Walgreens, and Capitol One over the past four days after their email service provider, Epsilon, disclosed that an intruder had accessed its email records.

Epsilon said only email addresses were exposed and not information such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or customer names. Epsilon also said the breach affected 2 percent of its clients.

However, the affected businesses warned their customers to avoid phishing attacks designed to trick them into providing personal information, passwords, and other sensitive information to hackers who may now have access to their email addresses.

Craig Spiezle, executive director at the Online Trust Alliance, said he could not comment specifically about the Epsilon breach. However, he said it represents one of several incidents that could erode public trust in service providers. (The alliance is an industry group that works on behalf of its members to improve trust in e-commerce and other digital services; Epsilon is listed as a member.)

The Epsilon incident, he said, "underscores the importance that we must increase investment in security measures. They are not the first ESP and they probably won't be the last (to be hacked)," he said.

Advances in email filtering offer some safeguards against fraudsters. "Just having a [customer email] list alone does not mean you can contact a person," Spiezle said. "The ISPs have mechanisms to detect spam. They can look at an IP address to determine if mail is authentic."

What's especially troublesome, he said, is the velocity and sophistication of attacks against service providers - and not just email service providers.

Consider these recent incidents:

- Silverpop, a digital marketing services company, disclosed in December that it was one of several technology providers that were targeted as part of a cyber attack. CEO Bill Nussey, in a blog post, said a quick decision to reset customer passwords halted the attack. "Third-party experts have confirmed that the attack was particularly sophisticated and we are working with customers and industry peers to share what we have learned," Nussey wrote.

- RSA Security, which develops software and hardware to protect computer networks, said last month that a cyber attacker had stolen information that could potentially reduce the effectiveness of its SecurID two-factor authentication products.

- A hacker tricked Comodo, the developer of anti-virus software, into issuing fraudulent digital certificates for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other websites, according to a CNET report.

Spiezle's advice for businesses? "If you are collecting data, you have to assume you will lose it," he said. Businesses must ask: What are you doing to minimize access and collection of data? What are you doing to detect intrusions and remediate breaches? "That's a business mindset you have to have. You have to be prepared for the worst," he said.

One indication of the size of the exposure: "Epsilon" emerged as a trending topic on Twitter last night as people tweeted and retweeted about the breach. "May need to create a filter just for notifications about Epsilon's email breach," tweeted Doug Bowman, aka @stop.

Other people expressed surprise over the fact that a company they never heard of had access to their information.

"Who is Epsilon & why was my data exposed to unauthorized entry... Hate when my junk is violated without my consent," tweeted AJ Karim, aka @ajkarim.

ClickZ Live Toronto Twitter Canada MD Kirstine Stewart to Keynote Toronto
ClickZ Live Toronto (May 14-16) is a new event addressing the rapidly changing landscape that digital marketers face. The agenda focuses on customer engagement and attaining maximum ROI through online marketing efforts across paid, owned & earned media. Register now and save!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get ClickZ Email newsletters delivered right to your inbox. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

ion Interactive Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper

Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper
Marketing apps can elevate a formulaic landing page into a highly interactive user experience. Learn how to turn your static content into exciting marketing apps.

eMarketer: Redefining Mobile-Only Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop

Redefining 'Mobile-Only' Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop
A new breed of selective mobile-only consumers has emerged. What are the demos of these users and how and where can marketers reach them?

Jobs

    • Contact Center Professional
      Contact Center Professional (TCC: The Contact Center) - Hunt ValleyLooking to join a workforce that prides themselves on being routine and keeping...
    • Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador
      Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreAgora, www.agora-inc.com, continues to expand! In order to meet the needs of our...
    • Design and Publishing Specialist
      Design and Publishing Specialist (Bonner and Partners) - BaltimoreIf you’re a hungry self-starter, creative, organized and have an extreme...