Inside the Secret Service's cyber crimes war room

Inside the Secret Service's cyber crimes divi... 02:37

WASHINGTON -- Inside the Secret Service's Criminal Investigation division, Special Agent In Charge Ed Lowery gave CBS News rare access to a room where agents track cyber criminals around the world.

Screens inside the room showed an Internet chat room based in Russia, where hackers were brazenly selling what they'd just stolen, including U.S. Social Security numbers, offered at $2 each.

Ed Lowery shows Wyatt Andrews the room where agents track cyber criminals around the world. CBS News
Along with credit cards, Social Security numbers and personal information, thieves also use the marketplace to sell the latest know-how. The recent attacks on Target lasted for weeks -- and at Neiman Marcus, for three months -- when highly sophisticated thieves broke through the companies' firewalls and stole millions of card numbers but never raised an alarm.

On the forum agents were tracking, the defeat of AV, or antiviral software, was one of the skills for sale.

"There are individuals out there that their business is ensuring that if you have built a piece of malware, that it will be undetectable by antivirus," Lowery said.

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In the Target case, the Secret Service and the banks that monitor these chat rooms all noticed a spike of more than 800,000 stolen credit cards -- offered at once. Investigators posed online as buyers, bought a sample of the stolen cards and made the connection to charges at Target.

Ed Lowery CBS News
"These individuals, they are the highest level cyber criminals," Lowery said. "They study their targets, they are extremely patient."

Now the focus is on finding and arresting the criminals who use the chat rooms knowing they are being hunted.

"They believe, when they commit the crimes, they're anonymous, and they believe they're safe from U.S. law enforcement," Lowery said. "I believe our successes in the past would show you they are not right."

The Secret Service says its investigations have led to 4,900 arrests for cyber or credit fraud over the last four years. In the attack against Target, agents say the malware used probably came from Eastern Europe or Russia, but that the manhunt for who did it is global.

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.