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Hackers infiltrate TD Ameritrade client database

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TD Ameritrade Holding, an online brokerage that manages more than 6.3 million accounts, said hackers broke into a database containing detailed information about clients. While the thieves had access to social security numbers, birth dates and account numbers, Ameritrade said it has no evidence such information was ever retrieved.

TD Ameritrade said the unidentified intruders were able to infiltrate the database after they installed a backdoor on the company's computer network. With help of an outside forensic data firm, investigators were able to determine the hackers accessed clients' email addresses, names, addresses, phone numbers and other information, such as the number of trades placed in a given time period. The company said it has removed the rogue program and put measures in place to prevent unauthorized code from being installed in the future.

At no time were user IDs, passwords or account assets - collectively worth about $297.2bn - ever acquired, the company said.

TD Ameritrade disclosed the breach in a press release issued Friday, a day typically reserved for airing dirty laundry. The release omitted details including how long the breach lasted, who the company suspected was responsible, exactly how the intruders managed to install the code on the company's network or what measures had been taken to prevent future breaches. A TD Ameritrade spokeswoman declined to answer those questions, citing an ongoing investigation.

The spokeswoman, Kim Hillyer, did clarify that company officials have been able to determine that social security numbers and other sensitive information belonging to TD Waterhouse clients prior to its acquisition by Ameritrade were not retrieved. That's because the merging of the two companies' backend systems wasn't completed until recently, she said.

"Through our investigation, we've been able to see a little more what the code actually did," she said. "We can conclude because of our intelligence that the TD Waterhouse information was never accessed."

However, the company can make no assurances as to whether or not sensitive information belonging to the company's remaining clients was accessed.

"We've been doing investigations and through that we have no evidence that (sensitive) information was taken for our other clients," Hillyer said. "We can't say we definitely know."

In a list of frequently asked questions, TD Ameritrade answered simply "No" to the query: "Has this happened before to TD Ameritrade?"

The company, however, isn't a newcomer to leaking important information. According to a chronology of data breaches compiled by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Ameritrade spilled information relating to 200,000 records when it lost an unencrypted backup tape in 2005. And late last year, the company informed about 300 current and former employees that their social security numbers and other details could have been exposed after a laptop containing the information went missing. ®

If you're an Ameritrade client who has received spam or notifications related to this breach, please contact this reporter by using this link. Confidentiality assured.

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