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Risk

2/24/2009
09:52 AM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Commentary
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Breach! More Payment Processor Problems

The news of another -- another! -- payment processor data breach makes it clear that the crooks have selected processing companies as the battleground of choice in their efforts to grab your customers' credit card information.

The news of another -- another! -- payment processor data breach makes it clear that the crooks have selected processing companies as the battleground of choice in their efforts to grab your customers' credit card information.While the name of the breached payment processor has yet to be disclosed, indications of compromised credit card data began popping up on financial institution Web sites over the past few days.

And here we go again.

Only a few weeks after Heartland revealed what may be the largest data breach ever, another merchant processing company has been tagged, compromising customer credit and payment card numbers and expiration dates, although evidently no Social Security numbers were compromised.

Difference now is that the specific processor remains unidentified, with Visa and MasterCard notifying affected banks and financial institutions of compromised card numbers.

For a processing company to play a data breach this close to the vest is troubling on any number of fronts.

Least important, in the long run, is the damage the company will do to its image when its name is finally revealed. We've argued here before that the only way to deal with this sort of compromise is to get absolutely and openly in front of it and stay there. Playing catch-up is a loser's game.

More importantly, the signal sent in a time of dwindling -- vanishing! -- confidence in financial institutions of every stripe is troubling and then some. Online sales have become a vital part of the battered economy, and anything that compromises consumer confidence as well as consumer information serves only to make dire economic times more dire.

What does it mean for your business? Obviously, it means plenty if your bank or credit union was doing business with the breached merchant processor.

But more than that, the cascade -- and it's starting to look like one -- of insecure, vulnerable, exposed and too-easily-hacked transaction processing firms, already clearly attracting major and growing criminal attention, should lead you to contact your own financial institution, whether its processing vendor has been breached or not, and review its merchant account vendor relationships.

And as you do so, watch for the revelation of just which processor was breached and, more importantly, how many accounts have been compromised.

I'm hoping I'm wrong, but the secrecy surrounding this one leads me to believe that when the numbers come out they're going to be big, maybe very big.

The Heartland breach affected as many as 500 banks and financial institutions. No way to know yet if this one is in the league or -- one hopes not -- larger, but no way to know it's not, either.

And this is how uncertainty gets added to insecurity about our financial services vendors, how lack of confidence in security can lead to customers losing confidence in the security of online transactions.

Not to mention your own, justifiable, concerns about the safety of your own institutions and the vendors they deal with.

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