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Ransomware attack foiled, but details of 540,000 sports referees still stolen by hackers

Ransomware attack foiled, but details of 540,000 sports referees still stolen by hackers
  • Ransomware attack detected and blocked at ArbiterSports
  • But not before sensitive data was exfiltrated
  • Questions raised about how securely firm was storing passwords and social security numbers.

The details of approximately 540,000 sports referees, league officials and game officials have been stolen by hackers after an attack on ArbiterSports, a company owned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to provide match scheduling and training software and services.

According to data breach notification letters sent out by ArbiterSports, some months ago it detected that its computer network had been breached, and that the hackers had attempted to encrypt data through a ransomware attack.

The ransomware attack was blocked. But in mid-July, while investigating the attack, ArbiterSports identified that the unauthorised third-party had also managed to access a backup copy of a database, containing:

  • account usernames and passwords
  • names
  • addresses
  • email addresses
  • dates of birth
  • Social Security Numbers

According to ArbiterSports the particularly sensitive password and Social Security Numbers data was “encrypted in the file”, but unfortunately they admitted that the attackers had been able to decrypt the data making that detail somewhat moot.

It was perhaps no surprise that despite not having managed to encrypt ArbiterSports’ data, the hackers still attempted to extort a ransom from the firm – offering to delete the stolen details if payment was made. It has not been revealed how much money the hackers attempted to extort out of ArbiterSports.

However, As ZDNet reports, we do know that ArbiterSports paid the hackers’ ransom demand and “obtained confirmation that the unauthorised party deleted the files.”

Of course, it’s hard to have absolute confidence – especially when dealing with criminals – that the data really was destroyed. It may be that ArbiterSports paid for nothing.

The organisation began mailing notification letters to affected individuals in August, offering victims access to one year’s complimentary credit monitoring and identity fraud protection services.

Because, as we all know, criminals will never ever exploit data that is more than 365 days old… </sarcasm>

One person who considers the fact that ArbiterSports got hacked as unforgivable is programmer Keith Mukai.

In a blog post he describes how he received a breach notification letter from the firm, claims that ArbiterSports was storing passwords insecurely, and calls on them to do more to pursue the criminals and show more transparency about the security breach.

About the author


Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats.

Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security.