NEW YORK (AP) — Home Depot said Thursday that a data breach that lasted for months at its stores in the U.S. and Canada affected 56 million debit and credit cards, far more than a pre-Christmas 2013 attack on Target customers.
The size of the theft at Home Depot trails only that of TJX Companies' heist of 90 million records disclosed in 2007. Target's breach compromised 40 million credit and debit cards.
Home Depot, the nation's largest home improvement retailer, said that the malware used in the data breach that took place between April and September has been eliminated.
It said there was no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised or that the breach affected stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at Homedepot.com. It said it has also completed a "major" payment security project that provides enhanced encryption of customers' payment data in the company's U.S. stores.
But unlike Target's breach, which sent the retailer's sales and profits falling as wary shoppers went elsewhere, customers seem to have stuck with Atlanta-based Home Depot. Still, the breach's ultimate cost to the company remains unknown. Greg Melich, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group LLC, estimates the costs will run in the several hundred million dollars, similar to Target's breach.
"This is a massive breach, and a lot of people are affected," said John Kindervag, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. But he added, "Home Depot is very lucky that Target happened because there is this numbness factor."
Customers appear to be growing used to breaches, following a string of them this past year, including at Michaels, SuperValu and Neiman Marcus. Home Depot might have also benefited from the disclosure of the breach coming in September, months after the spring season, which is the busiest time of year for home improvement.
And unlike Target, which has a myriad of competitors, analysts note that home-improvement shoppers don't have many options. Moreover, Home Depot's customer base is different from Target's. Nearly 40 percent of Home Depot's sales come from professional and contractor services. Those buyers tend to be fiercely loyal and shop a couple of times a week for supplies.
Home Depot on Thursday confirmed its sales-growth estimates for the fiscal year and said it expects to earn $4.54 per share in fiscal 2014, up 2 cents from its prior guidance. The company's fiscal 2014 outlook includes estimates for the cost to investigate the data breach, providing credit monitoring services to its customers, increasing call center staffing and paying legal and professional services.
However, the profit guidance doesn't include potential yet-to-be determined losses related to the breach. The company said it has not yet estimated costs beyond those included in the guidance issued Thursday. Those costs could include liabilities related to payment card networks for reimbursements of credit card fraud and card reissuance costs. It could also include future civil litigation and governmental investigations and enforcement proceedings.
"We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and anxiety this has caused, and want to reassure them that they will not be liable for fraudulent charges," Home Depot's chairman and CEO, Frank Blake, said in a statement. "From the time this investigation began, our guiding principal has been to put our customers first, and we will continue to do so."
The breach at Home Depot was first reported on Sept. 2 by Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security, a website that focuses on cybersecurity.
Target's high-profile breach pushed banks, retailers and card companies to increase security by speeding the adoption of microchips in U.S. credit and debit cards. Supporters say chip cards are safer, because unlike magnetic strip cards that transfer a credit card number when they are swiped at a point-of-sale terminal, chip cards use a one-time code that moves between the chip and the retailer's register. The result is a transfer of data that is useless to anyone except the parties involved. Chip cards are also nearly impossible to copy, experts say.
Target has been overhauling its security department and systems and is accelerating its $100 million plan to roll out chip-based credit card technology in all of its nearly 1,800 stores. Home Depot said it will be activating chip-enabled checkout terminals at all of its U.S. stores by the end of the year.
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Authorities say a building on the University of Georgia campus in Athens has been evacuated for the day after a threat of violence against the building came from social media.
UGA spokesman Tom Jackson says the Zell B. Miller Learning Center in the center of campus was evacuated Friday afternoon. Jackson says no violence has been reported and police are evaluating the building.
He said students and staff also have left the nearby Tate Student Center out of caution but were not ordered to leave that building.
Jackson says students and faculty were notified using the UGA Alert system, which sends emails, text messages and makes phone calls when activated.
NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market wavered midday Friday as Wall Street watched Alibaba soar in its first day of trading. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged above the record level reached the day before.
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Chuck Searcy might one day return to Athens to stay.
But as he nears 70, Searcy says he still has unfinished business after 19 years in Vietnam — specifically, continuing his work with Project Renew, a group which works to reduce the toll of the unexploded bombs still killing and maiming Vietnamese children and farmers.
"We dropped 15 million bombs over Vietnam, more than all of the bombs in World War II," said Searcy, a University of Georgia graduate and one of the founders of the Athens Observer, a newspaper that flourished during the 1970s and 1980s.
Searcy's anti-bomb work is focused in the Vietnamese province of Quang Tri.
Vietnamese veterans such as Searcy had a different name for the area — the DMZ or "demilitarized zone, the region between North and South Vietnam during the war, which ended in 1975.
"The DMZ is the most heavily bombed area in the history of the world," Searcy said. A great many of the unexploded bombs in Quang Tri are the result of cluster bombs, big bombs that open in the area to distribute bomblets, just the right size for a curious child to pick up years later.
Project Renew works in a sort of two-step way to protect people against the bombs, which disproportionately hurt children and rural people, Searcy explained on a visit to Athens recently.
One is education, teaching people what unexploded bombs look like, where they're likely to be and what to do when they find one. Then, bomb removal teams can safely remove the explosive devices once spotted.
The job will really never be over, Searcy said. People dug up about 5,000 unexploded World War II bombs in Germany — last year, he said.
Official estimates put the number of casualties from unexploded bombs in Vietnam at around 100,000, including 34,000 killed. The true numbers are considerably higher, Searcy said.
But thanks partly to Project Renew, the casualty rate today is far below what it was two decades ago, he said. Project Renew is run by Vietnamese, but gets help from organizations like one Searcy is affiliated with, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
The tragic legacy of Agent Orange is also receding, he said. In about 10 years, the United States poured out an estimated 20 million gallons of the Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants on to Vietnamese forests and fields, defoliating an estimated 20 percent of the country's farmland and millions of acres of farmland. Humanitarian groups and the Vietnamese have done a lot to help lessen the lingering effects — now with some help from the U.S. government, Searcy said in an interview on a visit to Athens last month.
"There's reason for optimism now that we can bring real closure to these legacies of the war, which are really America's responsibility," Searcy said.
Searcy got his first education about Vietnam and the Vietnamese War in the 1960s, working in military intelligence. He was in the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, when some of the war's heaviest fighting raged on the battlefields.
"I learned that the war was a tragic mistake," Searcy said.
Searcy worked with classified information, and soon came to understand the intelligence reports were routinely rewritten to reflect whatever policies were in force at the time, rather than reality, he said.
Searcy's first humanitarian work in Vietnam was more about braces than bombs.
In the early 1990s he found himself with a choice of jobs. One was to return to Washington, D.C. working for the Veterans Administration at $140,000 a year; years before, Searcy was an administrator with the Small Business Administration during the Carter presidency. At another phase in his career, he was executive director of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association.
But instead he took another job at one-third the pay with an anti-war veterans group, helping to provide devices such as braces for children and others permanently injured by bombs.
Once or so a year, Searcy returns to Athens to reconnect with old friends and raise money for Project Renew.
As Athens musician Kate Morrissey played in the front yard one Saturday last month, dozens of Searcy's friends and supporters, many of them veterans, came by the house Searcy still owns in Five Points to talk and chip in with checks for Project Renew. On the sidewalk nearby, fans in red and black made their way toward Sanford Stadium for UGA's first football game of the year.
The day afterward, Searcy couldn't say when or even if he might return to Athens to stay.
"I've always assumed I'll come back. It's just taken longer than I expected. My porch at Five Points is very inviting," he said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has enlisted Hollywood stars including Jon Hamm of "Mad Men" and Connie Britton of "Nashville" to help fight campus sexual assault.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are unveiling the "It's On Us" campaign Friday at a White House event.
A website that went live Friday morning, ItsOnUs.org, features a public service announcement with Obama, Biden and other familiar faces telling viewers it's their responsibility to stop sexual assault. The star power also includes NBA all-star Kevin Love, actresses Kerry Washington, Rose Byrne and Mayim Bialik, comedian Joel McHale and musicians Randy Jackson and Questlove.
With an estimated one in five college women attacked, the campaign encourages everyone on campus to make sure friends are safe and to intervene before an assault happens. The message is particularly targeted at men, with the White House pointing to research that shows that men are often reluctant to speak out against violence against women because they believe other men accept it.
"It's on us to stop sexual assault," Hamm says in a close-up shot that opens the video.
"To get in the way before it happens," Washington continues.
Others chime in to encourage viewers to make sure friends get home safe and not to blame the victim or look the other way. Obama closes the video by referring to the pledge and the website.
The campaign is being supported by partners who plan to help spread the message, including the NCAA, several collegiate athletic conferences and media companies with reach among students. The NCAA plans to promote anti-assault messages on screens at their championship events. Video game maker Electronic Arts will encourage fans to sign up to pledge to support the campaign through its online platforms. And media giant Viacom will promote the messages on websites, including for music channels MTV, VH1, BET and CMT.
Visitors to the website are asked to turn their social media profile pictures into the shape of the campaign logo. They are asked to use their name, email address and zip code to pledge "not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution." The information is collected by Generation Progress, the youth arm of the liberal Center for American Progress advocacy organization with close ties to the White House.
The event comes as students are settling in for a new year on campus and follows other White House efforts that have been helping raise awareness about the problem that typically remained in the shadows. Research has shown most victims know their attackers, alcohol or drugs are often involved and only 12 percent of college women attacked report it to police.
Obama decried the statistics as "totally unacceptable" in a January speech and launched the White House Task Force to Prevent Students from Sexual Assault. The task force recommended actions campuses could take to protect victims, such as identifying confidential victim's advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses. And the U.S. Department of Education for the first time publicly exposed the list of colleges under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints.
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BELL, Fla. (AP) — A man who spent time in prison a decade ago for the shooting death of his young son killed six of his grandchildren, including an infant, his adult daughter and himself in a rampage at a home where authorities in the small Florida town say they had been called to in the past.
The shooter, 51-year-old Don Spirit, called 911 Thursday afternoon to say he might harm himself or others, Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz said at a news conference. When a deputy arrived, Spirit committed suicide and authorities then found the seven gunshot victims "all over on the property," Schultz said.
Schultz wouldn't say if a weapon was recovered or what sort was used. He didn't have a motive for the massacre but said deputies had been to the home in the past for various reasons.
"There's still a lot of unanswered questions. There's going to be questions that we're never going to get answered," he said.
Schultz also did not say if slain 28-year-old Sarah Lorraine Spirit was the mother of any of the two boys and four girls, some of whom spent a lot of time at the rural home.
At a later news conference, Schultz released the names of the victims. In addition to Sarah Spirit, they were: Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and Alanna Stewart, who was born in June.
As darkness fell, police had cordoned off the length of the dirt road leading to the home near Bell, a town of just 350 people about 30 miles west of Gainesville.
"Keep this community in your prayers," Schultz said. "Tomorrow's going to be a hard day in Gilchrist County."
Schultz said Spirit was the only suspect and that some people were left alive at the home. Schultz also said Spirit had a criminal history. According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, Spirit was released from prison in February 2006 for a gun charge.
According to an online story in 2003 by the Orlando Sentinel, a 40-year-old Don Spirit pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the fatal shooting of his 8-year-old son, Kyle, in a 2001 hunting accident. He was sentenced to three years in prison and was emotional about the shooting at his hearing.
The story said that on a walk through the woods with Kyle and an older son, Spirit pointed out rust on the muzzle of his rifle. The rifle fired, hitting Kyle in the head, according to the Osceola County Sheriff's Office. Spirit was convicted in 1998 for felony possession of marijuana, according to a charging affidavit.
Speaking about Thursday's killings, Schultz said he wouldn't divulge where exactly the victims were found, though he said, "They were certainly all over on the property."
Bell resident Daniel Barry was trying to absorb the loss in the community west of I-75.
"It's tragic, the kids. Even if there were family problems, why involve the kids?" he said outside a convenience store. "It's enough that he took his daughter's life, but his grandkids, too? It's surreal."
Associated Press writer David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.