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How One Cybercrime Gang Is Ratcheting Up PoS Attacks

With magnetic-stripe payment card transactions gradually starting to disappear in the US, cybercriminals have been on a tear with PoS attacks against retail and hospitality targets that haven't yet adopted EMV card payment, FireEye researchers say.

Cybercriminals are doubling down their attacks on US point-of-sale systems (PoS) still using magnetic-stripe card transactions as the window for exploiting those weaker systems gradually closes.

One particularly pervasive gang, dubbed FIN6 by FireEye, has been especially active. According to FireEye, the latest PoS attacks overall, including from FIN6, are all signs of the bad guys trying to take advantage of weaker, non-EMV PoS systems without other security protections as well such as end-to-end encryption, while they are still in place.

FIN6 is a cybercrime group tracked by FireEye that focuses on stealing payment card information for profit, and was responsible for stealing millions of payment card numbers in 2015 in retail and hospitality firm PoS breaches later investigated by FireEye’s Mandiant team.

“We’ve actually seen discussion in undergound communities collaborating and talking about the need to exploit magnetic-stripe transactions while they can,” says John Miller, director of Threatscape Cybercrime at FireEye. “The number of PoS breaches in the last couple [of months] has been reflective of that as well.”

A few big names have been in the news recently for payment card attacks, although nowhere near the volume of rapid-fire attacks seen during 2014, aka The Year Of The Retailer Data Breach, when numerous big-box retailers were hit, including Home Depot, Michael’s, Neiman Marcus, and of course, Target. Now that retailers are rolling out EMV payment cards to replace the more vulnerable swipe cards, as well as end-to-end encryption, cybercriminals are shifting their targets to retailers and hospitality chains that haven’t yet caught up with the new security wave.

Most recently, Trump Hotel Collection (a chain of luxury hotels owned by Republican presidential candidate and real estate magnate Donald Trump), Starwood Hotels (Sheraton, Westin, etc.), and Hilton Worldwide have reported data breaches of customer payment card data.

FireEye wouldn’t confirm which recent payment card breaches were the handiwork of FIN6, but says the cybercrime group is still in action and continues to successfully steal payment card data.

Researchers from FireEye and iSIGHT Partners, which FireEye recently acquired, teamed up and compared notes to flesh out just how FIN6 monetizes stolen card data in the criminal underground. While they are still unsure just how FIN6 initially infects a victim, they confirmed the gang employs the so-called Grabnew (aka Vawtrek, aka Neverquest) credential-stealing malware, some Metasploit hacking tools, and then installs Trinity (aka FrameworkPOS) PoS malware to pilfer magnetic-stripe payment card data.

The researchers traced FIN6’s stolen card data to a particular underground shop that then in turn sells the stolen information to fraudsters. More than 10 million cards from FIN6’s data breaches were seen in the shop at times. In one data breach by FIN6, the card shop was selling the stolen US card data for an average of $21 per account. According to FireEye, that shop then could theoretically make $400 million if all of the data sold. “In reality, the shop would typically only make a fraction of this figure, since not all the data would be sold (laundering stolen cards is typically much harder than stealing them), buyers want the newest data they can get (data that has been on the shop for a while loses its value), and the shop offers discounts based on various criteria. Still, a fraction of $400 million is a significant sum,” according to FireEye’s report.

It’s also possible that FIN6 members could also work the shop or that FIN6 sells the stolen data to the shop for resale, FireEye says.

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“It’s not only the intrusion to the PoS system, but how the cards end up in these underground shops,” says Nart Villanueve, principal threat intelligence analyst at FireEye.

According to the report:

“The story of FIN6 shows how real-world threat actors operate, providing a glimpse not only into the technical details of the compromise, but into the human factor as well; namely, the interactions among different criminals or criminal groups, and how it is not just data being bartered or sold in the underground, but also tools, credentials and access,” FireEye’s report says.

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