BUSINESS

Citibank customers' information stolen as computer systems breached

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NEW YORK (AP) — Citigroup Inc. has become the latest victim in a string of high-profile data thefts by hackers targeting some of the world's best-known companies.

The New York bank said Thursday that about 200,000 Citibank credit card customers in North America had their names, account numbers and email addresses stolen by hackers who broke into Citi's online account site.

The breach comes after data attacks in recent weeks have struck at companies including Internet search leader Google Inc., defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp, and media and electronics company Sony Corp.

Citigroup said it discovered that account information for about 1 percent of its credit card customers had been viewed by hackers. Citi has more than 21 million credit card customers in North America, according to its 2010 annual report. The bank, which discovered the problem during routine monitoring, didn't say exactly how many accounts were breached. Citi said it was contacting those customers.

The bank said hackers weren't able to gain access to social security numbers, birth dates, card expiration dates or card security codes. That kind of information often leads to identity theft, where cyber criminals empty out bank accounts and apply for multiple credit cards. That can debilitate the finances and credit of victims. Citi customers could still be vulnerable other problems. Details about their bank accounts and financial information linked to them could be acquired using the email information and account numbers hackers stole.

Federal regulators have taken notice and are asking banks to improve security.

"Both banks and regulators must remain vigilant," said Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. She said federal agencies, including the FDIC, are developing new rules to push banks to enhance online account access.

The Citi incident is only the latest data breach at a major company.

--On June 1, Google said that the personal Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including senior U.S. government officials, military personnel and political activists, had been breached.

--On May 30, broadcaster PBS confirmed that hackers cracked the network's website and posted a phony story claiming dead rapper Tupac Shakur was alive in New Zealand.

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