The DBA Thief Who Knew Enough To Avoid His Own Network

Fidelity National suffered the ultimate insider theft when an IT staffer sold about 2.3 million customer records to a marketing firm. But it's the low-tech way this techie did it that makes it interesting.

When Fidelity National Information Services this week announced that about 2.3 million customer records had been illegally sold to a group of direct marketers, most media overlooked the most interesting part.

Some quick background. The Fidelity National we're talking about is a Jacksonville, Fla., firm that owns a company called Certegy Check Services Inc.. Certegy is mostly in the check authorization business and it tracks bank account information so that can help retailers whether it's wise to accept a particular check. The company says it also handles some credit card information "to assist casinos in providing their customers with access to funds."

Fidelity National said that about "2.3 million records are believed to be at issue, with approximately 2.2 million containing bank account information and 99,000 containing credit card information."

Fidelity National said the incident "came to light when one of Certegy's retail check processing customers alerted Certegy to a correlation between a small number of check transactions and the receipt by the retailer's customers of direct telephone solicitations and mailed marketing materials." Added Renz Nichols, President of Certegy Check Services: "As a result of this apparent theft, the consumers affected received marketing solicitations from the companies that bought the data."

The company said that this was all orchestrated by one employee, who has thus far only been identified as "a senior-level database administrator who was entrusted with defining and enforcing data access rights." If someone wants to steal a database, that's the perfect job to have.

Despite?or is it because of??this employee's technical expertise, intimate knowledge of the network and extreme access, he/she didn't break in, didn't do a transfer and didn't concoct such elaborate script to make data copies. "The incident does not involve any outside intrusion into, or compromise of, Certegy's technology systems," said a company statement. Here's the most fascinating part: "To avoid detection, the technician removed the information from Certegy's facility via physical processes; not electronic transmission."

As a DBA, this admin knew precisely the likely next steps. They'd search for a security breach and then bring in a forensic investigator. The U.S. Secret Service came in next.

The most time-honored rule of security is the weak link. Namely, that a skilled thief will quickly determine the weakest possible point of access and focus his/her efforts there.

Although the obvious takeaway is to try and secure all access points, the other takeaway is to not waste money layering on excess security on any one entry point.

Take a house, for example. If the frontdoor is made of thick steal and has a high-end deadbolt on it, it's a waste to install a second deadbolt when there's a perfectly fine window two feet away. Once that door made the window the weak link, additional security on the door is useless.

In a frightening unanticipated consequence, law enforcement a year or so ago reported increased in carjackings at gunpoint. One crucial culprit? The newest anti-theft devices were too effective. When the car was sufficiently secured at all points, the driver became the weaklink.

In the Fidelity National incident, that DBA knew the company's weaklink. They had poured enough security and tracking systems in that he chose to avoid leaving any digital fingerprints at all. Whether the DBA is supposed to have stolen a backup tape or engaged in some other physical theft is not yet clear.

How was the suspect caught? The Secret Service was able to identify the company that was supplying the direct marketers with the information. That company was apparently owned and operated by the DBA in question. If the allegations are true, the DBA was smart enough to avoid leaving any electronic breadcrumbs but was then dumb enough to use a company he was identified with to make the sale.

The IT moral of the story: When the people who know your system best decide they had better not mess with it, you're probably doing something right.