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Attacks/Breaches

4/9/2014
10:00 AM
Kerstyn Clover
Kerstyn Clover
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Whats Worse: Credit Card Or Identity Theft?

When it comes to data loss, it's time for the conversation to shift from credit cards to personal information like Social Security numbers, home addresses, and your favorite flavor of ice cream.

The Target data breach is often discussed in relation to loss of cardholder data, but in terms of personally identifiable information like a Social Security number or home address, it’s also a cautionary tale about how much data a company might be collecting and tracking. When I read a Forbes article recently about how Target identified a pregnant girl before her own family heard the news, I was both impressed and disturbed.

Stores, banks, the government, and many other entities have a lot to gain from the business intelligence they derive by collecting and correlating data. But when that data is leaked there is often no way to know just what and how much has been exposed. With lost personally identifiable information (PII) criminals may know when I am most likely to fill up my gas tank or what my favorite flavor of ice cream is.

Worse yet, that information could be leveraged against me, with enough time and persistence, to gain access to something like a line of credit. I know from firsthand experience that small details, like children’s names and birthdays, are the key to securing critical information during social engineering assessments. Imagine what a criminal could accomplish with thousands of personal records.

To frame the issue better, when it comes to protecting information, many consumers believe that using debit cards with PIN numbers is the safer way to go. I recall talking with family members and hearing how most of them refuse to run their debit cards as credit when they have the choice.

If PIN data is encrypted from the moment it is entered, its loss might not be a huge issue, although it does raise the question of where the encryption key is being stored. The key should only be held at the payment processor, far away from the entry devices and point-of-sale systems. Of course, very few systems I have analyzed for potential cardholder data loss should have been storing credit card data, but so far everyone has. We also know that with time and effort encryption can be broken.

Many companies will attest that their encryption is "very strong," contributing to the idea that PINs are safe. However, it’s not uncommon to find that many people say their security is strong, and it turns out to be WEP encryption or randomly generated complex passwords that are then stored on a sticky note in view of everyone in their office.

My crystal ball is in the shop today, but if I had to make a prediction I would say that the PINs and PII lost as part of so many data breaches are going to show up somewhere in some manner and cause serious damage. Unfortunately, the discussion about these types of information and, more importantly, why they are not stored securely has taken a backseat to credit card security and whether or not the US should adopt chip-and-pin technology.

An unexpected or unknown threat such as nebulous "personal information" loss is always worse than the threats you can identify and prepare for. It's time for the conversation to shift. Given the variety of information that could be circulating about you at any given moment, what type of data loss keeps you up at night?

As a staff consultant on the SecureState Attack and Defense Team, Kerstyn works with a broad range of organizations across a variety of industries on security assessments including incident response, forensic analysis, and social engineering.
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Kerstyn Clover
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Kerstyn Clover,
User Rank: Moderator
4/9/2014 | 3:44:46 PM
Re: Identify Theft - a new conversaton
Randy - That's the same way I tend to see it as well - I would much rather lose something that I can track (and freeze, report, cancel, whatever) at my own will than something that's nebulous and much harder to keep track of or identify.

 

Meredith - I can't speak for media as a whole, but I would wager that part of the reason CC data loss gets so much coverage is that it's a lot easier to sum up in sound bites and advice for consumers. I would much rather advise a client on how to handle their credit card being stolen than on trying to rein in their personal data, so if I'm a news organization trying to do a consumer alert story then that's the way to go. Not to mention, cardholder data is something we know is out there and there are still plenty of people who can't begin to fathom how much data is being collected about them. I'm not even sure I can.

 

I think the new conversation starts in a lot of places. Constantly pushing for security that's above and beyond requirements or regulations is a great place to start; we know there are controls for card numbers but it gets a lot greyer when you're deciding how you can and can't store or transfer, say, favorite colors.
Randy Naramore
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Randy Naramore,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2014 | 3:37:10 PM
Re: Identify Theft - a new conversaton
To me CC data takes a back seat to PII because of the obvious, credit cards can be cancelled but sensitive data loss is a much greater difficulty. Thoughts?
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
4/9/2014 | 12:35:01 PM
Re: Identify Theft - a new conversaton
Kerstyn. Let me throw your own question sback at you: Why has PII data security taken a back set to CC info? Where does the "new conversation" begin and with whom? 
NeiraJ312
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NeiraJ312,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2014 | 11:47:50 AM
Re: Identify Theft
Hi Kerstyn, excellent post, and yes the consumer is all too often forgotten and they may see the fall out of a breach affecting them month or years after the breach itself... I wrote on the subject myself a while back and would very much appreciate your view :)

YOUR PROVIDER IS HACKED, YOU'RE ASSURED OF NO FINANCIAL LOSS. BUT ARE YOU SAFE?...


Kind regards,

Neira
jmshipe
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jmshipe,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2014 | 11:34:58 AM
Re: Identify Theft
For the consumer, identity theft is far more devastating than credit card theft.  As for the company that lost it, I'd say the jury is still out.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2014 | 11:16:51 AM
ID Theft
ID theft gets my vote as being worse. If my CC number gets stolen and reused, it's relatively easy to get the charges removed. But if my ID gets stolen (Social, address, etc.), then trying to prove that I'm me and that other guy isn't me turns into a Kafka-esque, bueracratic existential nightmare.
Randy Naramore
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Randy Naramore,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2014 | 10:51:57 AM
Identify Theft
Personal Information loss can make someone's life miserable. The tasks that people must through to get credit files straightened out and the fraudulent accounts that have been charged up closed are daunting at the very least. Social media is one way the bad guys get some of the information they ues, we need to understand the hazards of telling too much about ourselves. Good article.
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