Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find

Updated:
WASHINGTON - Secret Service investigators say they are close to gaining a full understanding of the methods hackers used to breach Target's computer systems last December.

But the agency says it could take years to identify the criminals who stole some 40 million debit and credit card numbers of Target shoppers and other personal information from as many as 70 million people in the pre-Christmas breach.

And it may take even longer to bring the offenders to justice. The federal investigation is complicated by the international nature of high-profile digital heists. The perpetrators are likely located overseas, which makes extradition and prosecution difficult. As a result, the Secret Service is focused on monitoring the online activities of its suspects, in hopes that they'll be able to arrest them at an opportune moment, says Ari Baranoff, an assistant special agent in charge with the Secret Service's criminal investigative division.

"We take a lot of pride in having a lot of patience," Baranoff said during a rare sit-down interview with the Associated Press at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "There are individuals we've apprehended that we've known about for 10 years and we're very comfortable indicting these individuals, sitting back and waiting patiently until the opportunity arrives that we can apprehend them."

Target says it can't yet estimate what the breach will cost the company, but some analysts put it at close to half a billion dollars. The total cost of the breach -which also would include losses incurred by banks, consumers and others- could easily reach into the billions of dollars.

While best known for protecting the president of the United States, the U.S. Secret Service was originally formed in 1865 to investigate crimes related to counterfeit currency. The passage of the Patriot Act following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks expanded its role in investigating computer-related crimes.

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