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Massive Hack Attack on Target: Data Stolen from 40M Cards
Massive Hack Attack on Target: Data Stolen from 40M Cards

By Jennifer LeClaire
December 19, 2013 10:18AM

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It's extremely unlikely that hackers could have installed skimmers in Target stores across the country to steal the data from 40 million credit and debit cards. Most likely, Target’s centralized card processing network was compromised with some sort of malware that stole the track data from the credit and debit cards of 40 million shoppers.
 


Cybercriminals put a bullseye on Target, then hit it. The retailing giant is reporting hackers may have tapped into as many as 40 million accounts of consumers who shopped at its stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.

Target acknowledged the hack on Thursday, calling it “unauthorized access to Target payment card data.” The retailer is recommending consumers review their account statements and credit reports to monitor for fraud. The company was quick to apologize, with “deep regret” for any inconvenience it may cause and assured consumers it takes privacy and security seriously.

“We are partnering with a leading third-party forensics firm to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and to examine additional measures we can take that would be designed to help prevent incidents of this kind in the future,” the company said in a statement. “Additionally, Target alerted authorities and financial institutions immediately after we discovered and confirmed the unauthorized access, and we are putting our full resources behind these efforts.”

Heartland Revisited?

We caught up with Aaron Titus, CPO and general counsel at Identity Finder, a sensitive data management solution provider, to get his take on the breach. He told us “track data,” which is the data in question in the Target incident, is extra sensitive data physically stored on a credit card magnetic stripe, in addition to the card number, expiration date and verification code.

“Although skimmers -- physical devices that steal track data from point-of-sale machines in stores -- can collect track data, it is extremely unlikely that hackers could have installed skimmers in Target stores across the country,” he said.

At this point, he continued, it seems most likely that Target’s centralized card processing network was compromised with some sort of malware that stole track data, much like the 2009 Heartland Payment Systems breach.

“Organizations that strictly follow PCI-DSS 2.0, and PCI-DSS 3.0 should be able to prevent most of these sorts of breaches, so I imagine Target has already begun the process of locking down, analyzing, and securing their systems,” Titus said. “The first step to PCI-DSS 2.0 and 3.0 compliance is data sensitive data management through discovery and classification, which can help a company identify broken business processes and technology shortcomings.”

Distinguishing Data

The same mentality that allowed the Target incident to occur is often reflected across many systems, according to Kevin O’Brien, a director of product marketing at CloudLock, a cloud information security company.

From his perspective, a data classification system should be in place that can automatically distinguish between the non-sensitive and sensitive data and ensure that governance and policy enforcement mechanisms are in place to prevent accidental cross-pollination between the relatively accessible non-sensitive data storage systems and the high-security PCI/PII storage systems.

“In the cloud, this means having a deep context-aware security solution that can find and apply intelligent tagging to sensitive or regulated assets, and then building policy and governance models that secure that information, without becoming burdensome for that systems users,” he wrote in a blog post.

“In the same way that Target could have still allowed people to use their cards while limiting what could run or touch the POS terminals, organizations can secure their critically sensitive information without impeding the business or its users,” he said.
 

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