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Sands casino hacking: Politically motivated or an identity theft breach?

On Tues., Feb. 11 hackers took over the websites of the Las Vegas Sands organization leaving political messages and exposing employee names, phone numbers and most importantly Social Security numbers.

Was this an attack voicing anger against casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his political views? No other casino organization websites were hacked, only those owned by the Las Vegas Sands. Sands spokesman Ron Reese confirmed that certain core operating systems were not impacted by the hacking. He declined to say whether the company is aware of any credit card records being breached.

The first sign that the company’s systems might have been breached came Monday morning, when the company’s email system went down,” Reese said. “The problem resolved itself but returned in the middle of the night.” By Tuesday morning hackers had taken control of all Sands sites, posting what looked like a clip-art collage featuring a map with images of flames where Sands casinos are located. The page included a picture of Sands CEO Sheldon Anderson posing with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a message condemning the use of weapons of mass destruction. Then the hackers also posted employee Social Security numbers and signed their work, “Anti WMD Team.”

Websites run by the “world’s largest gambling company” were hijacked just after noon, showing the altered web pages. In less than an hour the company had shut down the program and it remains “shut down for maintenance.”

Adelson has been quoted on many controversial issues, especially about the Middle East. During a forum at Yeshiva University in New York City last fall he even suggested a nuclear strike in the Iranian desert if needed to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and then threatening Tehran next. His stance was that strength was the only thing the country understands.

Adelson, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine to be more than $37 billion, has been a longtime supporter of Israel. The website hacking appears to be referring to his support of Israel. It featured a line stating "Damn A, don't let your tongue cut your throat. Encouraging the use of weapons of mass destruction, under any conditions, is a crime."

While consumers may fear yet another credit card breach, the true victims are the employees whose Social Security numbers were exposed.

“Credit card breaches are easily remedied,” noted national expert on identity theft Jay Foley. “Customers won’t bear any financial burden. The problem is that they are told to get identity theft protection packages and this can make them think that the breach is worse than the truth of the situation.

“The difference is this is a TRUE opportunity for thieves to get and use active names and Social Security numbers. These employees may face weeks, months or even years of problems due to true identity theft. The information can be used to get jobs, credit, loans, buy houses, get a driver’s license and even claim to be that person when arrested after committing a crime. Unlike Adelson his employees won’t have the financial means to hire attorneys to straighten out the mess left by identity thieves.”

Foley added, “It is important for the media to represent this hacking correctly. Last night the news focused on credit cards and not the employees. We need to put these breaches and hackings into perspective for the public. That is an obligation we cannot overlook.”

Some insiders questioned whether the website hijacking was related to Adelson's latest controversial political stance — to have Internet gambling banned nationwide. Adelson has argued that allowing people to gamble by computer from their homes is ripe for abuse because the Internet can't prevent children, intoxicated people and addicted players from gambling.