NEW YORK — The hackers behind the recent Target data breach are likely a world away and nearly impossible to find.
That’s the consensus among outside cybercrime experts as Target, the Secret Service and the FBI continue their investigation of the pre-Christmas data heist in which hackers stole about 40 million debit and credit card numbers and 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 has become of their precious personal information. The information can be used in a variety of nefarious ways. Criminals can attempt to use the credit card numbers and place charges on the original owners’ accounts or they can use other pieces of personal information to steal people’s identities and apply for new lines of credit.
In cases where such a massive amount of information is stolen, criminals generally divide the data into chunks and sell the parcels through online black markets, said Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser for the computer security firm Sophos.
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.