Details of Millions of Cell Users for Sale on CD

Databases containing the personal details of some 4.5 million clients of St. Petersburg cellular and fixed-line telephone operators have been stolen and are readily available on CD-ROM, Kommersant reported Tuesday.

The daily reported Tuesday that unsolicited e-mails offering to sell the databases were sent out en masse late last week, including to reporters at the newspaper. The three CDs that were advertised contained personal information about 1.3 million subscribers of national operator Megafon's northwest branch, 500,000 MTS subscribers in St. Petersburg, 120,000 of Delta Telecom and 2.5 million of Northwest Telecom fixed-line operator and alternative operator Peterstar.

The e-mails said it was possible to search through the databases using a telephone number, surname, passport number or address of a subscriber and cited a contact number for the seller of the CD-ROM. A correspondent of the newspaper reportedly met with the contact person and acquired one of the CD-ROMs.

Databases of fixed-line operators that contain corporate and private telephone numbers are regularly featured on the Internet, including Moscow City Telephone Network and Northwest Telecom in St. Petersburg. But the databases of cellular operators are closely guarded, and the recent theft in St. Petersburg would be the second-largest ever in Russia.

Earlier this year, leading national operator Mobile Telesystems, or MTS, said one of its databases containing the information of about 5 million of its subscribers was stolen, copied and then sold on the black market.

Cellular operators in St. Petersburg said they were investigating the case but declined to comment on who may have been behind the caper.

"We are taking measures to investigate the fact that part of our client databases are being made available on the Internet and we are cooperating with the police," said Alexander Volkov, director at Megafon's northwest branch. "We have not found any facts of the unsanctioned transfer of information regarding client databases since mid-2002."

Volkov said that databases containing information about the company's subscribers are confidential and can be shared with third parties only in accordance with the law. The company's officials have partial access to the databases, he added.

"We are currently looking into this case, but I want to underline that the security protection system of the database excludes the possibility of unsanctioned access to the information," said Aelita Davydova, a spokeswoman for MTS's St. Petersburg subsidiary, Telecom XXI.

"Police should be interested in what has happened. On our behalf, we are willing to cooperate."

Northwest Telecom declined to comment, and Delta Telecom and Fora Communications could not be reached on Tuesday.

A manager at Peterstar said the company preferred not to jump to conclusions before it saw exactly what information from its database was being sold.

One St. Petersburg telecoms expert with knowledge of the investigation said investigators were looking into the possibility that the leak may have originated with the now defunct Tax Police, who directly or indirectly received subscriber data from Gossvyaznadzor, the Communications Ministry's oversight arm.

Gossvyaznadzor could not be reached for comment.