X Factor contestants warned after 250,000 data breach

Simon Cowell gives database thumbs down

Would-be contestants of Simon Cowell's US X Factor might have got more public exposure than they bargained for with the news that the details of 250,000 of them have been lost after an attack on the TV show's database.

The records were stolen from TV network Fox Broadcasting and included personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth, but not credit card details, said UK tabloid, the Daily Star, which broke the news.

"This week, we learned that computer hackers illegally accessed information you and others submitted to us to receive information about The X Factor auditions," read an email sent to those affected by the attack.

The worry now is that criminals will use the data to mask social engineering or identity attacks.

"The X Factor will never ask you to email personal information such as financial data, credit card numbers, social security numbers or the user name or passwords you use to access other websites," warned the email.

"If you receive an email that appears to be from Fox.com or The X Factor asking for personal information, please delete it, as it did not come from us."

How the attack occurred or how attackers gained access to the data has not been revealed but the FBI has been called in.

The resources of the Feds are likely to be stretched in the aftermath of several huge hacks which have been reported in US-based operation in recent weeks. These include the Sony PSN hack, a separate but almost as large one at the company's Online Entertainment division, and one from March at online marketing outfit, Epsilon.

All this only two weeks after a comprehensive study of data breaches by Verizon - which included figures from the US Secret Service - concluded that the number of breached records in the US was at a low point in 2010. The figures covering 2011 will certainly dwarf the 4 million records the study recorded as having been compromised during that year.

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John E Dunn

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