Reed Elsevier calls in FBI over database

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The Independent Online

Reed Elsvier, the publisher, has been forced to call in the FBI to investigate unauthorised access to the US electronic database business it bought last year for $775m.

Reed Elsvier, the publisher, has been forced to call in the FBI to investigate unauthorised access to the US electronic database business it bought last year for $775m.

Suspected criminals have stolen the identification details and passwords from customers of the Reed business, called Seisint.

The database brings together information on almost every individual in the US, from public sources such as drivers' licence records, social security details, birth registrations and residence histories. Information in some 32,000 may have been "fraudulently" accessed by those who took the passwords of Seisint's legitimate customers. It is suspected that "identity thieves" are involved, though the database does not contain credit history, medical records or financial information.

Seisint is used in the US by the police, other law enforcement agencies - including in the hunt for terrorists - public sector bodies and private companies. It is used, for instance, to check that new employees are who they say they are. As well as the FBI, the Secret Service arm of the Department of Justice is also pursuing those involved in the theft.

Reed Elsevier emphasised that no one had managed to hack into the database. The thieves had breached security at the customers of Seisint, which is part of Reed's LexisNexis legal arm.

The company said: "LexisNexis very much regrets this and will be notifying all the individuals concerned and providing them with ongoing credit monitoring and practical support to ensure that any identity theft is quickly detected and addressed."

Reed said that the problem would not have a significant financial impact and that the outlook for Seisint and LexisNexis businesses "remains very positive".

The news of the security problem would have some reputation implications, analysts said, and it may add to the concerns of those who questioned the price paid for the Seisint acquisition. The business was bought on a multiple of 6.5 times expected 2004 revenues.

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