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Neiman Marcus, Target Data Breaches: 8 Facts

A cyberattack campaign, likely coordinated, breached data from Target, Neiman Marcus, and at least three other retailers.

Chris Gray, director of the risk and compliance practice at information security consulting firm Accuvant, told Reuters that attackers would likely have tested their hacking techniques before launching a full-fledged campaign during the holiday shopping season.

"You want to test it and make sure it works," said Gray. "Then you push it out at the appropriate time and do as much damage as you can."

6. Attack toolkit likely included RAM scraper
One unanswered question from the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches is how internal or external attackers managed to steal so much data while avoiding detection. But people with knowledge of the Target investigation told Reuters that the attackers' toolkit reportedly included memory-parsing malware known as RAM scrapers. The malware can be used to infect point-of-sale (POS) systems -- a fancy name for retailers' digital cash registers -- and then intercept sensitive information such as credit card numbers and magnetic-stripe data. While the data resides in memory it remains in plaintext -- and thus easy to intercept -- even if it later gets encrypted for storage or transmission.

Visa reportedly published two security alerts last year -- in April and August -- warning retailers about a rise in RAM-scraping attacks. But one source told Reuters that the RAM scraping tools used by attackers were more sophisticated than what's been seen before, meaning that even if Target or any other retailer had bolstered its security defenses in the wake of the Visa warning, they may have been unable to stop the new malware.

7. Stolen card data flooded market early in January
Why steal credit card data from Neiman Marcus or Target? The most likely explanation behind any cybercrime is financial -- turning a profit either by using the cards to make fraudulent purchases and resell the goods for cash, to sell the stolen data in bulk via "carder" forums, or both.

On that front, Daniel Ingevaldson, CTO of Easy Solutions, said his fraud-detection firm recently saw a flood of high-end card data hit the cybercrime marketplace. "On January 4th, we saw a dump of 2 million cards onto the black market -- one of the largest single day drops we've seen in a while," Ingevaldson said in a blog post.

"While we can't definitively say what the source of the breach was, the percentage of extremely high-value cards is significantly higher than we see on average. These are cards like the Amex Centurion card -- an invite-only card that comes with a $7,500 setup fee and $2,500 annual fee," he said. "While it is hard to determine from a single black market, this would indicate these could come from a high-end source, such as Neiman Marcus."

8. After breaches, Congress considers making retailers pay
Banks and card issuers are reportedly prohibited from naming any organization that's suffered a breach, unless that organization releases a public breach notification. Then it's up to the card issuers to notify affected customers.

Issuing new cards, however, reportedly costs at least $10 per card, which has led some card issuers to avoid reissuing cards after a breach. Notably, while J.P. Morgan Chase reportedly replaced up to 2 million cards for cardholders whose data was compromised during the Target breach, Wells Fargo has declined to do so, saying that it will instead monitor accounts for signs of fraud and add additional protections to any apparently compromised accounts.

But The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that in coming weeks, the Senate banking committee is set to explore whether retailers should foot the costs incurred by card issuers in the wake of a breach.

The related debate is sure to be contentious. Card issuers, for starters, have long decried their inability to hold retailers accountable for the cost of replacing cards following a breach. But retailers have long countered that card issuers should be doing more to protect cardholder data, for example by implementing the chip-and-PIN system known as EMV, which requires a cardholder to enter a personal identification number before the card can be used to authorize an in-person transaction. EMV is already in widespread use in many other parts of the world, including Europe. Support for EMV in the United States has been weak, at best, likely owing both to the cost retailers would incur by having to upgrade to EMV-compliant point-of-sale systems, as well as the cost to card issuers of issuing new, EMV-compatible cards and undertaking related consumer education.

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer, as well as the InformationWeek information security reporter.

Next-gen intrusion-prevention systems have fuller visibility into applications and data. But do newer firewalls make IPS redundant?Also in the The IPS Makeover issue of Dark Reading Tech Digest: Find out what our 2013 Strategic Security Survey respondents have to say about IPS and firewalls. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2014 | 7:51:46 AM
Re: All that spying and the Police & Security State let's another massive crime happen.
There is plenty of blame to pass around.  What amazes me is that 40 million cards could be stolen and the banks didn't notice a trend in their customers spending habits changing all of a sudden.  I highly doubt that they were only using a handful of cards at a time after the breach.  Secondly and I'm not saying this is the best plan but it would surprise me if banks have a team that is out there trying to buy stolen card numbers in order to head off any attacks.  I know if I was running a large bank I would have a team that worked undercover to buy card numbers so that when there were big leaks like this I could quickly shut off the taps.  From the retailer's side it makes me wonder if the group that did the hacking used the same vulnerability to access all of the affected networks. 
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
1/14/2014 | 8:11:45 PM
Re: Chips ahoy
I'd like to see more options for requiring additional authentication, like a mobile phone confirmation step, added as an option at online and retail stores.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2014 | 3:39:49 PM
Re: All that spying and the Police & Security State let's another massive crime happen.
Not that breached retailers shouldn't bear the brunt of the costs associated, the card issues are also to blame for not keeping current with card technology, such as Chip and Pin (required in Canada) and one-time card numbers.  The card issuers are cheap bastards that won't spend on the more secure cards.  Shame!
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2014 | 11:31:26 AM
Re: Chips ahoy
Great question. The short answer is that the attack could still have succeeded. That's because the type of malware tied to the Target breach scraped the POS device memory, which must handle acquired data in plaintext format.

So an attack against a region that uses the smartcards to which you refer -- known as EMV, and branded as "chip & PIN" in the UK and Ireland -- would theoretically have been able to steal cardholder data.

But attackers or buyers of the stolen card data would not -- I believe -- be able to use this data to create fake cards for making in-person purchases or withdrawals. That's because POS systems are programmed to not accept "swipes" for EMV-compatible cards, as a fraud-protection measure. As a result, attackers would also need the four-digit PIN code. (That said, one risk is that attackers could rewrite the firmware on the EMV-compatible POS device itself. But that's a different scenario.)

Would-be fraudsters with EMV card data could still use the data for online or remote purchases, provided that additional defenses weren't in place. Some European banks and card providers, for example, require that cardholders register a secret word (say, FOOTBALL), and then ask for specific characters of that word to be used to authorize any online transactions (such as asking for 1st, 2nd, and 5th characters of the secret word, so F+O+B, on one instance, and a different set of characters the next time).

So like all types of security, the more layered the defenses, the better the likelihood of preventing these types of attacks.
Jim Donahue
Jim Donahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2014 | 10:19:54 AM
Chips ahoy
Mat-- Would smartchips, as used on European credit cards, have prevented this?
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2014 | 5:16:33 PM
Re: All that spying and the Police & Security State let's another massive crime happen.
It's a good idea.  But industry CEOs, and their lawyers, have generally rejected the idea, in part because they would need to share information with the government that might compromise competitve information; and in part because of concerns that such private-public cooperation could raise the risks for corporations of getting slammed with lawsuits.

User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2014 | 2:19:04 PM
Re: All that spying and the Police & Security State let's another massive crime happen.
Yes, but what about the multiples of terrorist attempts, most of them unpublicized for security reasons, that "The Security State" has prevented? And The Security State isn't responsible for stopping massive credit card information theft at the likes of Target and Neiman Marcus. Target and Neiman Marcus are responsible for that. If the government were to stick its nose in those affairs, you'd be citing them for doing just that, no?

User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2014 | 12:56:14 PM
All that spying and the Police & Security State let's another massive crime happen.
The Security State spends billions, spies on all of us, infiltrates groups and still they can't prevent Oklahoma, WTC, 9/11, London Metro, Spanish train, Boston maraton and now this massive credit card theft. 

Maybe they need to rethink their focus and tactics. Maybe they should leave the peace activists and the environmentalist alone. Maybe they need to get a little smarter about who they are frisking and who they are asking to take off their belt at the airports.

Maybe they could stop being so focused on recreational drugs and actually do something about financial, banking and credit crimes.

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