'Hacker safe' Web site gets hit by hacker

Geeks.com tells customers that their personal and financial data may have been compromised

Just because a Web site has a certification claiming that it is virtually hackproof, that doesn't necessarily mean it's immune to all intrusions.

A case in point is Geeks.com, which on Friday began notifying an unspecified number of customers that their personal and financial data may have been compromised by an intrusion into the systems that run the online technology retailer's Web site. Geeks.com, whose formal business name is Genica, said in a letter to customers that it discovered the security breach on Dec. 5.

The compromised information included the names, addresses, telephone numbers and Visa credit card numbers of an unspecified number of customers who had shopped at Geeks.com, according to a copy of the letter that was posted on The Consumerist blog.

Geeks.com is a US$150 million company specializing in the sale of computer-related excess inventory and manufacturers' closeouts. Its Web site prominently proclaims that it is tested on a daily basis by ScanAlert, a vendor in California, that agreed in October to be acquired by McAfee (download PDF).

ScanAlert says its vulnerability scanning service is designed to constantly monitor Web sites for vulnerabilities that could compromise customer data. The service is used by more than 250,000 Web sites, of which about 80,000 -- including Geeks.com -- display ScanAlert's "Hacker Safe" logo. ScanAlert describes the logo as a "trustmark" that is designed to help reassure consumers about a site's security precautions.

McAfee officials weren't immediately available to comment on what might have happened at Geeks.com.

A telephone operator at Geeks.com's headquarters in Oceanside, Calif., said that she was unable to find anyone at the retailer who could comment about the incident. She instead provided a toll-free telephone number -- (888) 529-6261 -- that Geeks.com has set up to assist customers with questions and concerns related to the incident.

In addition to that number, last week's notification included a number for non-US residents to call, suggesting that the breach may have affected customers in other countries as well.

The letter indicated that both numbers would be operational beginning tomorrow. However, an operator answered the toll-free number this morning and said that a company representative would be in touch shortly with more information about the incident.

According to the letter, which was signed by Jerry Harken, chief of security at Geeks.com, the intrusion has been reported to local law enforcement authorities as well as to the US Secret Service. The incident has also been reported to Visa, Harken said, without providing any indication of why only Visa card numbers appear to have been compromised.

In addition, Geeks.com has brought in outside help to investigate the intrusion. "We have engaged an outside, nationally recognized security firm to determine how this incident occurred and to confirm that information we obtain is protected to the fullest extent reasonably possible," Harken wrote.

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Jaikumar Vijayan

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