Archive for November, 2015

Chick-fil-A Restaurant chain investigates hack into credit card payment data

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Chick-fil-A is investigating a possible breach of credit card data that occurred in mid-December.

Chicken sandwich chain Chick-fil-A is investigating a possible data breach at some of its restaurants, the company announced Friday, saying it was working with cybersecurity firms and federal law enforcement to determine whether its payment system was hacked.

In a terse statement, the fast food company said “payment industry contacts”, likely meaning credit card companies and banks, had reported suspicious activity on 19 December. After those initial reports, Chick-fil-A contacted authorities and cybersecurity companies to help investigate the activity, which it described only as “involving payment cards at a few restaurants”.

A spokesperson for the company declined to comment; the company’s statement declares it “premature for us to comment further given the pending investigation”.

Cybersecurity journalist and expert Brian Krebs first reported a possible breach in mid-December, saying that several financial institutions had traced the common point-of-purchase on cards with suspicious activity to Chick-fil-A locations. An anonymous source told Krebs that most of the restaurant locations affected were in a handful of states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and Texas.

Krebs believes a breach of Chick-fil-A’s locations would likely have affected only a fraction of the company’s nearly 2,000 restaurants. He compared the breach to those of other medium-sized chains, such as Dairy Queen, that use third-party companies to manage their purchase systems. In those cases, hackers installed malware in the third party’s point-of-sale (POS) software — the technology in a credit card terminal — allowing the thieves to steal data encoded on the back of cards.

If confirmed, the December breach would add to a year of similar attacks on major US corporations. In November, hackers installed malware on Home Depot’s self-checkout systems, netting them 53m emails and compromising 56m credit and debit card numbers. In December 2013, Krebs revealed a data breach of Target’s system; the company discovered that criminals had compromised personal information of about 110 million customers, and also likely used POS infiltration.
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In the digital arms race between authorities and hackers, corporations and security firms are struggling to keep pace. In September, the Ponemon Institute, a data protection research group, found that 43% of US firms had experienced a data breach in the past year. In October, a majority of experts told Pew Research they expected major cyber attacks to cause widespread harm in the next 10 years. And nearly two years ago, Symantec, the world’s largest antivirus software company, admitted that its technology could no longer defend against the most sophisticated cyber attacks.

With a wealth of credit card data and personal information, hackers can either create counterfeit cards or sell the information to others. Chick-fil-A said that if investigation confirms a data breach, customers will not be held liable for relevant charges, adding that it would arrange identity protection services for affected customers.

Krebs knocked down that offer “as a means of placating nervous customers”, and both he and Chick-fil-A encouraged customers keep a close eye on bank and card statements to look out for suspicious activity and possible identity theft.

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Henry Sapiecha

Stolen credit card details available for £1 each online

Guardian finds batch of 100 stolen cards on sale for £98 on ‘dark web’ amid heightened fears about identity theft in wake of TalkTalk hack

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To bulk buy stolen data at lower prices, fraudsters head to the dark web via the Tor browser. Photograph: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Image

UK credit card details are on sale for as little £1 each online, the Guardian has learned, as fears rise over the security of personal data in the wake of the TalkTalk cyber-attack.

More than 600,000 individuals had their personal details stolen from UK companies in 2014, according to the Financial Times, underlining the scale of online crime in this country. It is likely that some of that data will have ended up on a website used by criminals wanting to buy high-end UK credit card data.

Visa and Mastercard details stolen on Tuesday were offered to the Guardian the following day – provided payment was made in the cypto-currency bitcoin – on a website which is registered in Russia but run in English.

The site did not reveal where the details were harvested from, but the ownership of the cards was clear. One credit card was registered to a person in Craigavon in north County Armagh; another belonged to a resident of Chelmsford, Essex, who lost their platinum Visa card earlier this week. Platinum cards are particularly attractive to fraudsters because of their high credit limit. Scores more card details, registered to addresses up and down the country, from Aberdeenshire to Devon, were openly for sale on the site.

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The example of the Russian-registered site is striking because it is on the “surface” web, and easily available to conventional internet users. It has a high-end design and layout, offers customer support and promises an 80% success rate for the buyers of stolen cards. It sits at the luxury end of the identity theft market, and charges accordingly – it wanted $72 (£47) for each card sold to us.

To bulk buy stolen data at lower prices, however, fraudsters head to the dark web. This can be accessed via the Tor browser, rather than conventional browsers used by the vast majority of users. It bounces a connection through multiple encrypted relays before it hits its destination. This obscures where the site’s server is located, allowing would-be identity thieves to connect to hidden services, and sites not accessible to non-Tor users.

Searching through Tor, it is possible to access a site which will sell 100 credit cards (with the CVV2 digits – the three numbers on the reverse of the card) for just $150 (£98), around £1 per card. The site also sells PayPal accounts at $100 for 100, while other hidden services will offer €1,250 of counterfeited notes for €500. Free shipping is included.

Buying the stolen information is just the first step in a process that criminals use to convert digital data bought online into hard cash. The credit cards are used to load money onto easily obtained pre-paid debit cards. These are payment cards that function similar to credit cards, and can be used to shop online, but can be opened without the sort of checks wanted by banks when opening a current account.

These pre-paid debit cards are used to buy online gift cards. In turn, these gift cards are used to buy high-value electronics, such as iPhones or games consoles, which are sold at a discount – an iPhone 6S for $430 or an Xbox One for $240. That cash goes in the pocket.

But how do these dark websites get the data? A significant source of stolen information, particularly in the US, is old-fashioned card-skimming: a compromised terminal or company employee on the take, who steals the details of a card in the process of completing a transaction.

Just as common is the 21st-century equivalent: malware. This is the catch-all term for malevolent software that infects an individual’s computer to monitor communications for confidential information such as banking passwords, credit card details and social media logins. The data is uploaded to a central server where it is sold on or used to further spread the malware.

The Gameover Zeus malware, disrupted by a joint UK-US operation in June 2014, was one such attack. This acted as a form of “ransomware”, encrypting the infected computer and demanding payment in bitcoin to release the data.

The third major source of data for sale is large-scale hacks, of the type that was flagged by telecoms operator TalkTalk on 23 October. Sometimes the stolen information can be used directly, especially where the company has irresponsibly stored credit card data or passwords on their servers in plaintext; or it may be used as the first step in stealing someone’s identity, where information from two or more hacks is linked to build a profile that can be used to apply for bank accounts or credit cards.

TalkTalk boss: we’re unsure how many customers were affected by cyber-attack – video

Security experts call the organised criminal hacks “advanced persistent threats”. But the attack on TalkTalk has left researchers bemused. A 15-year-old boy from Northern Ireland is on police bail in connection with the cyber-attack, while on Friday a 16-year-old boy was arrested in London.

TalkTalk appears to have been the victim of a relatively amateur and opportunistic hack, according to experts. The company’s chief executive, Dido Harding, said the perpetrator exploited a “sequential injection” attack. Security researchers, realising she meant to say “SQL injection” – a common form of attack in which a hacker tricks the website into releasing information from a database – had a field day.

“It’s not the lowest-hanging fruit of all,” said David Enn, a researcher at information security firm Kaspersky. “But certainly in terms of attacking core infrastructure of the business, we’re not looking at a concerted, targeted attack. What you’re talking about here is like managing to sneak through the security barrier just by slipstreaming an employee.”

TalkTalk declined to discuss its defences in detail, given the ongoing police investigation, but said it continually invested in improving its systems, and constantly monitored and scanned its network to detect any weaknesses.

“We defend against all manner of attacks on a day by day basis,” a statement said. “Each day we have to block over 170m scamming emails to our customers, and we block over 1m nuisance calls to our customers each day.

“It is a constantly evolving fight against cybercrime and individual companies on their own can’t tackle this problem.”

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Henry Sapiecha