The Coming Storm


31
Dec 14

Lizard Kids: A Long Trail of Fail

The Lizard Squad, a band of young hooligans that recently became Internet famous for launching crippling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the largest online gaming networks, is now advertising its own Lizard-branded DDoS-for-hire service. Read on for a decidedly different take on this offering than what’s being portrayed in the mainstream media.

Lizard Stresser login page taunts this author.

Lizard Stresser login page taunts this author.

The new service, lizardstresser[dot]su, seems a natural evolution for a group of misguided youngsters that has sought to profit from its attention-seeking activities. The Lizard kids only ceased their attack against Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox Live networks last week after MegaUpload founder Kim Dotcom offered the group $300,000 worth of vouchers for his service in exchange for ending the assault. And in a development probably that shocks no one, the gang’s members cynically told Dailydot that both attacks were just elaborate commercials for and a run-up to this DDoS-for-hire offering.

The group is advertising the new “booter service” via its Twitter account, which has some 132,000+ followers. Subscriptions range from $5.99 per month for the ability to knock a target offline for 100 seconds at a time, to $129.99 monthly for DDoS attacks lasting more than eight hours.

In any case, I’m not terribly interested in turning this post into a commercial for the Lizard kids; rather, it’s a brain dump of related information I’ve gathered from various sources in the past 24 hours about the individuals and infrastructure that support the site.

In a show of just how little this group knows about actual hacking and coding, the source code for the service appears to have been lifted in its entirety from titaniumstresser, another, more established DDoS-for-hire booter service. In fact, these Lizard geniuses are so inexperienced at coding that they inadvertently exposed information about all of their 1,700+ registered users (more on this in a moment).

These two services, like most booters, are hidden behind CloudFlare, a content distribution service that lets sites obscure their true Internet address. In case anyone cares, Lizardstresser’s real Internet address currently is 217.71.50.57, at a hosting facility in Bosnia.

In any database of leaked forum or service usernames, it is usually safe to say that the usernames which show up first in the list are the administrators and/or creators of the site. The usernames exposed by the coding and authentication weaknesses in LizardStresser show that the first few registered users are “anti” and “antichrist.” As far as I can tell, these two users are the same guy: A ne’er-do-well who has previously sold access to his personal DDoS-for-hire service on Darkode — a notorious English-language cybercrime forum that I have profiled extensively on this blog.

As detailed in a recent, highly entertaining post on the blog Malwaretech, LizardSquad and Darkode are practically synonymous and indistinguishable now. Anyone curious about why the Lizard kids have picked on Yours Truly can probably find the answer in that Malwaretech story. As that post notes, the main online chat room for the Lizard kids (at lizardpatrol[dot]com) also is hidden behind CloudFlare, but careful research shows that it is actually hosted at the same Internet address as Darkode (5,38,89,132).

A suggested new banner for this blog from the jokers at black hat forum Darkode, which shares a server with the main chat forum for the Lizard kids.

A suggested new banner for this blog from the jokers at black hat forum Darkode, which shares a server with the main chat forum for the Lizard kids.

In a show of just how desperate these kids are for attention, consider that the login page for LizardStresser currently says “Hosted somewhere on Brian Krebs’ forehead: Donate to the forehead reduction foundation, simply send money to krebsonsecurity@gmail.com on PayPal.” Many of you have done that in the past couple of days, although I doubt as a result of visiting the Lizard kids’ silly site. Anyway, for those generous donors, a hearty “thank you.” Continue reading →


30
Dec 14

Banks: Card Breach at Some Chick-fil-A’s

Sources at several U.S. financial institutions say they have traced a pattern of credit card fraud back to accounts that all were used at different Chick-fil-A fast food restaurants around the country. Chick-fil-A told KrebsOnSecurity that it has received similar reports and is working with IT security firms and law enforcement in an ongoing investigation.

Photo: Robert Du Bois

Photo: Robert Du Bois

KrebsOnSecurity first began hearing from banks about possible compromised payment systems at Chick-fil-A establishments in November, but the reports were spotty at best. Then, just before Christmas, one of the major credit card associations issued an alert to several financial institutions about a breach at an unnamed retailer that lasted between Dec. 2, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014.

One financial institution that received that alert said the bank had nearly 9,000 customer cards listed in that alert, and that the only common point-of-purchase were Chick-fil-A locations.

“It’s crazy because 9,000 customer cards is more than the total number of cards we had impacted in the Target breach,” the banking source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source said his institution saw Chick-fil-A locations across the country impacted, but that the bulk of the fraud seemed concentrated at locations in Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

Reached for comment about the findings, Chick-fil-A issued the following statement:

“Chick-fil-A recently received reports of potential unusual activity involving payment cards used at a few of our restaurants.  We take our obligation to protect customer information seriously, and we are working with leading IT security firms, law enforcement and our payment industry contacts to determine all of the facts.”

“We want to assure our customers we are working hard to investigate these events and will share additional facts as we are able to do so.  If the investigation reveals that a breach has occurred, customers will not be liable for any fraudulent charges to their accounts — any fraudulent charges will be the responsibility of either Chick-fil-A or the bank that issued the card.  If our customers are impacted, we will arrange for free identity protection services, including credit monitoring.”

Continue reading →


19
Dec 14

FBI: North Korea to Blame for Sony Hack

The FBI today said it has determined that the North Korean government is responsible for the devastating recent hack attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. Here’s a brief look the FBI’s statement, what experts are learning about North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities, and what this incident means for other corporations going forward.

In a statement released early Friday afternoon, the FBI said that its investigation — along with information shared by Sony and other U.S. government departments and agencies — found that the North Korean government was responsible.

The FBI said it couldn’t disclose all of its sources and methods, but that the conclusion was based, in part, on the following:

-“Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.”

-“The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

-“Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.”

The agency added that it was “deeply concerned” about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who work there, and that the FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential information.

“Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI said. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt—whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise—to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.”

SPE was hit with a strain of malware designed to wipe all computer hard drives within the company’s network. The attackers then began releasing huge troves of sensitive SPE internal documents, and, more recently, started threatening physical violence against anyone who viewed the Sony movie “The Interview,” a comedy that involves a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Not long after a number of top movie theater chains said they would not show the film, Sony announced that it would cancel the movie’s theatrical release.

Apparently emboldened by Sony’s capitulation, the attackers are now making even more demands. According to CNN, Sony executives on Thursday received an email apparently from the attackers said they would no longer release additional stolen Sony Pictures data if the company announced that it would also cancel any plans to release the movie on DVD, Netflix or elsewhere. The attackers also reportedly demanded that any teasers and trailers about The Interview online be removed from the Internet.

A ‘MAGIC WEAPON’

Little is publicly known about North Korea’s cyber warfare and hacking capabilities, but experts say North Korean leaders view cyber warfare capabilities as an important asymmetric asset in the face of its perceived enemies — the United States and South Korea. An in-depth report (PDF) released earlier this year by HP Security Research notes that in November 2013, North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Un referred to cyber warfare capabilities as a “magic weapon” in conjunction with nuclear weapons and missiles.

“Although North Korea’s limited online presence makes a thorough analysis of their cyber warfare capabilities a difficult task, it must be noted that what is known of those capabilities closely mirrors their kinetic warfare tactics,” HP notes. “Cyber warfare is simply the modern chapter in North Korea’s long history of asymmetrical warfare. North Korea has used various unconventional tactics in the past, such as guerilla warfare, strategic use of terrain, and psychological operations. The regime also aspires to create viable nuclear weapons.”

Sources familiar with the investigation tell KrebsOnSecurity that the investigators believe there may have been as many as several dozen individuals involved in the attack, the bulk of whom hail from North Korea. Nearly a dozen of them are believed to reside in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

According to HP, a group of ethnic North Koreans residing in Japan known as the Chongryon are critical to North Korea’s cyber and intelligence programs, and help generate hard currency for the regime. The report quotes Japanese intelligence officials stating that “the Chongryon are vital to North Korea’s military budget, raising funds via weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and other black market activities.” HP today published much more detail about specific North Korean hacking groups that may have played a key role in the Sony incident given previous such attacks. Continue reading →


11
Dec 14

‘Poodle’ Bug Returns, Bites Big Bank Sites

Many of the nation’s top banks, investment firms and credit providers are vulnerable to a newly-discovered twist on a known security flaw that exposes Web site traffic to eavesdropping. The discovery has prompted renewed warnings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advising vulnerable Web site owners to address the flaw as quickly as possible.

chasepoodleIn mid-October, the world learned about “POODLE,” an innocuous acronym for a serious security flaw in a specific version (version 3.0) of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), the technology that most commercial Web sites use to protect the privacy and security of communications with customers.

When you visit a site that begins with “https://” you can be sure that the data that gets transmitted between that site and your browser cannot be read by anyone else. That is, unless those sites are still allowing traffic over SSL 3.0, in which case an attacker could exploit the POODLE bug to decrypt and extract information from inside an encrypted transaction — including passwords, cookies and other data that can be used to impersonate the legitimate user.

On Dec. 8, researchers found that the POODLE flaw also extends to certain versions of a widely used SSL-like encryption standard known as TLS (short for Transport Layer Security).

“The impact of this problem is similar to that of POODLE, with the attack being slightly easier to execute,” wrote Ivan Ristic, director of engineering at security firm Qualys, which made available online a free scanning tool that evaluates Web sites for the presence of the POODLE vulnerability, among other problems. “The main target are browsers, because the attacker must inject malicious JavaScript to initiate the attack.”

A cursory review using Qualys’s SSL/TLS scanning tool indicates that the Web sites for some of the world’s largest financial institutions are vulnerable to the new POODLE bug, including Bank of AmericaChase.comCitibankHSBC, Suntrust — as well as retirement and investment giants Fidelity.com and Vanguard (click links to see report). Dozens of sites offering consumer credit protection and other services run by Experian also are vulnerable, according to SSL Labs. Qualys estimates that about 10 percent of Web servers are vulnerable to the POODLE attack against TLS. Continue reading →


3
Dec 14

Be Wary of ‘Order Confirmation’ Emails

If you receive an email this holiday season asking you to “confirm” an online e-commerce order or package shipment, please resist the urge to click the included link or attachment: Malware purveyors and spammers are blasting these missives by the millions each day in a bid to trick people into giving up control over their computers and identities.

An "order confirmation" malware email blasted out by the Asprox spam botnet recently.

An “order confirmation” malware email blasted out by the Asprox spam botnet recently.

Seasonal scams like these are a perennial scourge of the holidays, mainly because the methods they employ are reliably successful. Crooks understand that it’s easier to catch would-be victims off-guard during the holidays. This goes even for people who generally know better than to click on links and attachments in emails that spoof trusted brands and retailers, because this is a time of year when many people are intensely focused on making sure their online orders arrive before Dec. 25.

This Asprox malware email poses as a notice about a wayward package from a WalMart  order.

This Asprox malware email poses as a notice about a wayward package from a WalMart order.

According to Malcovery, a company that closely tracks email-based malware attacks, these phony “order confirmation” spam campaigns began around Thanksgiving, and use both booby-trapped links and attached files in a bid to infect recipients’ Windows PCs with the malware that powers the Asprox spam botnet. Continue reading →


17
Nov 14

Link Found in Staples, Michaels Breaches

The breach at office supply chain Staples impacted roughly 100 stores and was powered by some of the same criminal infrastructure seen in the intrusion disclosed earlier this year at Michaels craft stores, according to sources close to the investigation.

staplesMultiple banks interviewed by this author say they’ve received alerts from Visa and MasterCard about cards impacted in the breach at Staples, and that to date those alerts suggest that a subset of Staples stores were compromised between July and September 2014.

Sources briefed on the ongoing investigation say it involved card-stealing malicious software that the intruders installed on cash registers at approximately 100 Staples locations. Framingham, Mass.-based Staples has more than 1,800 stores nationwide.

In response to questions about these details, Staples spokesman Mark Cautela would say only that the company believes it has found and removed the malware responsible for the attack.  Continue reading →


13
Nov 14

Network Hijackers Exploit Technical Loophole

Spammers have been working methodically to hijack large chunks of Internet real estate by exploiting a technical and bureaucratic loophole in the way that various regions of the globe keep track of the world’s Internet address ranges.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity featured an in-depth piece about a well-known junk email artist who acknowledged sending from two Bulgarian hosting providers. These two providers had commandeered tens of thousands of Internet addresses from ISPs around the globe, including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan and Vietnam.

For example, a closer look at the Internet addresses hijacked by one of the Bulgarian providers — aptly named “Mega-Spred” with an email contact of “abuse@grimhosting” — shows that this provider has been slowly  gobbling up far-flung IP address ranges since late August 2014.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC -- of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC — of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

According to several security and anti-spam experts who’ve been following this activity, Mega-Spred and the other hosting provider in question (known as Kandi EOOD) have been taking advantage of an administrative weakness in the way that some countries and regions of the world keep tabs on the IP address ranges assigned to various hosting providers and ISPs. Neither Kandi nor Mega-Spred responded to requests for comment.

IP address hijacking is hardly a new phenomenon. Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that go unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker.

Experts say the hijackers also are exploiting a fundamental problem with record-keeping activities of RIPE NCC, the regional Internet registry (RIR) that oversees the allocation and registration of IP addresses for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. RIPE is one of several RIRs, including ARIN (which handles mostly North American IP space) and APNIC (Asia Pacific), LACNIC (Latin America) and AFRINIC (Africa). Continue reading →


6
Nov 14

Feds Arrest Alleged ‘Silk Road 2′ Admin, Seize Servers

Federal prosecutors in New York today announced the arrest and charging of a San Francisco man they say ran the online drug bazaar and black market known as Silk Road 2.0. In conjunction with the arrest, U.S. and European authorities have jointly seized control over the servers that hosted Silk Road 2.0 marketplace.

The home page of the Silk Road 2.0 market has been replaced with this message indicating the community's Web servers were seized by authorities.

The home page of the Silk Road 2.0 market has been replaced with this message indicating the community’s Web servers were seized by authorities.

On Wednesday, agents with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security arrested 26-year-old Blake Benthall, a.k.a. “Defcon,” in San Francisco, charging him with drug trafficking, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and money laundering, among other alleged crimes.

Benthall’s LinkedIn profile says he is a native of Houston, Texas and was a programmer and “construction worker” at Codespike, a company he apparently founded using another company, Benthall Group, Inc. Benthall’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles both state that he was a software engineer at Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), although this could not be immediately confirmed. Benthall describes himself on Twitter as a “rocket scientist” and a “bitcoin dreamer.”

Blake Benthall's public profile page at LinkedIn.com

Blake Benthall’s public profile page at LinkedIn.com

Benthall’s arrest comes approximately a year after the launch of Silk Road 2.0, which came online less than a month after federal agents shut down the original Silk Road community and arrested its alleged proprietor — Ross William Ulbricht, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Ulbricht is currently fighting similar charges, and made a final pre-trial appearance in a New York court earlier this week.

According to federal prosecutors, since about December 2013, Benthall has secretly owned and operated Silk Road 2.0, which the government describes as “one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and widely used criminal marketplaces on the Internet today.” Like its predecessor, Silk Road 2.0 operated on the “Tor” network, a special network of computers on the Internet, distributed around the world, designed to conceal the true IP addresses of the computers on the network and thereby the identities of the network’s users.

“Since its launch in November 2013, Silk Road 2.0 has been used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to buyers throughout the world, as well as to launder millions of dollars generated by these unlawful transactions,”reads a statement released today by Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “As of September 2014, Silk Road 2.0 was generating sales of at least approximately $8 million per month and had approximately 150,000 active users.”

Benthall's profile on Github.

Benthall’s profile on Github.

The complaint against Benthall claims that by October 17, 2014, Silk Road 2.0 had over 13,000 listings for controlled substances, including, among others, 1,783 listings for “Psychedelics,” 1,697 listings for “Ecstasy,” 1,707 listings for “Cannabis,” and 379 listings for “Opioids.” Apart from the drugs, Silk Road 2.0 also openly advertised fraudulent identification documents and computer-hacking tools and services. The government alleges that in October 2014, the Silk Road 2.0 was generating at least approximately $8 million in monthly sales and at least $400,000 in monthly commissions.

The complaint describes how federal agents infiltrated Silk Road 2.0 from the very start, after an undercover agent working for Homeland Security investigators managed to infiltrate the support staff involved in the administration of the Silk Road 2.0 website.

“On or about October 7, 2013, the HSI-UC [the Homeland Security Investigations undercover agent] was invited to join a newly created discussion forum on the Tor network, concerning the potential creation of a replacement for the Silk Road 1.0 website,” the complaint recounts. “The next day, on or about October 8, 2013, the persons operating the forum gave the HSI‐UC moderator privileges, enabling the HSI‐UC to access areas of the forum available only to forum staff. The forum would later become the discussion forum associated with the Silk Road 2.0 website.”

The complaint also explains how the feds located and copied data from the Silk Road 2.0 servers. “In May 2014, the FBI identified a server located in a foreign country that was believed to be hosting the Silk Road 2.0 website at the time. On or about May 30, 2014, law enforcement personnel from that country imaged the Silk Road 2.0 Server and conducted a forensic analysis of it. Based on posts made to the SR2 Forum, complaining of service outages at the time the imaging was conducted, I know that once the Silk Road 2.0 server was taken offline for imaging, the Silk Road 2.0 website went offline as well, thus confirming that the server was used to host the Silk Road 2.0 website.” Continue reading →


3
Nov 14

Thieves Cash Out Rewards, Points Accounts

A number of readers have complained recently about having their Hilton Honors loyalty accounts emptied by cybercrooks. This type of fraud often catches consumers off-guard, but the truth is that the recent spike in fraud against Hilton Honors members is part of a larger trend that’s been worsening for years as more companies offer rewards programs.

HHONORSMany  companies give customers the ability to earn “loyalty” or “award” points and miles that can be used to book travel, buy goods and services online, or redeemed for cash. Unfortunately, the online accounts used to manage these reward programs tend to be less secured by both consumers and the companies that operate them, and increasingly cyber thieves are swooping in to take advantage.

Brendan Brothers, a frequent traveler from St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada, discovered a few days ago that his Hilton Honors account had been relieved of more than a quarter-million points, rewards that he’d accumulated using a credit card associated with the account. Brothers said the fraudsters were brazen in their theft, using his account to redeem a half-dozen hotel stays in the last week of September, booking rooms all along the East Coast of the United States, from Atlanta, GA to Charlotte, N.C. all the way up to Stamford, CT.

The thieves reserved rooms at more affordable Hilton properties, probably to make the points stretch further, Brothers said. When they exhausted his points, they used the corporate credit card that was already associated with the account to purchase additional points.

“They got into the account and of course the first thing they did was change my primary and secondary email accounts, so that neither me nor my travel agent were getting notifications about new travel bookings,” said Brothers, co-founder of Verafin, a Canadian software security firm that focuses on anti-money laundering and fraud detection.

Brothers said he plans to dispute the credit card charges, but he’s unsure what will happen with his purloined points; nearly a week after he complained to Hilton about the fraud, Brothers has yet to receive a response from the company. Hilton also did not respond to requests for comment from KrebsOnSecurity.

PUT A PIN IN IT

Hilton gives users two ways to log into accounts: With a user name and password, or a member number and a 4-digit PIN. What could go wrong here?  Judging from changes that Hilton made recently to its login process, thieves have been breaking into Hilton Honors accounts using the latter method. According to the travel loyalty Web site LoyaltyLobby, Hilton recently added a CAPTCHA to its login process, ostensibly to make it more difficult for crooks to use brute-forcing programs (or botnets) to automate the guessing of PINs associated with member accounts.

In a post on October 30, LoyaltyLobby’s John Ollila wrote about a hacker selling Hilton Honors accounts for a tiny fraction of the real world value of points in those accounts. For example, the points stolen from Brothers would have fetched around USD $12 — even though the thieves in his case managed to redeem the stolen miles for approximately USD $1,200 worth of hotel reservations.

I did a bit of sleuthing on my own and was able to find plenty of sellers on shady forums offering them for about three to five percent of their actual value. As this ad from the online black market/drug bazaar known as Evolution Market indicates, the points can be redeemed for gift cards (as good as cash) at points.com and other locations that convert points to currency. The points also can be used to buy items from the Hilton shopping mall, including golf clubs, watches, Apple products and other electronics.

A merchant on the Evolution black market hawking hijacked Hilton points for a fraction of their value.

A merchant on the Evolution black market hawking hijacked Hilton points for a fraction of their value.

“I don’t recommend using them for personal hotel stays, but they ARE safer (and cheaper) than using a carded hotel service,” the Evolution seller advises, referring to the risks associated with using purloined points versus trying to book a stay somewhere using a stolen credit card. Continue reading →


30
Oct 14

Chip & PIN vs. Chip & Signature

The Obama administration recently issued an executive order requiring that federal agencies migrate to more secure chip-and-PIN based credit cards for all federal employees that are issued payment cards. The move marks a departure from the far more prevalent “chip-and-signature” standard, an approach that has been overwhelmingly adopted by a majority of U.S. banks that are currently issuing chip-based cards. This post seeks to explore some of the possible reasons for the disparity.

emvkeyChip-based cards are designed to be far more expensive and difficult for thieves to counterfeit than regular credit cards that most U.S. consumers have in their wallets. Non-chip cards store cardholder data on a magnetic stripe, which can be trivially copied and re-encoded onto virtually anything else with a magnetic stripe.

Magnetic-stripe based cards are the primary target for hackers who have been breaking into retailers like Target and Home Depot and installing malicious software on the cash registers: The data is quite valuable to crooks because it can be sold to thieves who encode the information onto new plastic and go shopping at big box stores for stuff they can easily resell for cash (think high-dollar gift cards and electronics).

The United States is the last of the G20 nations to move to more secure chip-based cards. Other countries that have made this shift have done so by government fiat mandating the use of chip-and-PIN. Requiring a PIN at each transaction addresses both the card counterfeiting problem, as well as the use of lost or stolen cards.

Here in the States, however, the movement to chip-based cards has evolved overwhelmingly toward the chip-and-signature approach. Naturally, if your chip-and-signature card is lost or stolen and used fraudulently, there is little likelihood that a $9-per-hour checkout clerk is going to bat an eyelash at a thief who signs your name when using your stolen card to buy stuff at retailers. Nor will a signature card stop thieves from using a counterfeit card at automated payment terminals (think gas pumps).

But just how broadly adopted is chip-and-signature versus chip-and-PIN in the United States? According to an unscientific poll that’s been running for the past two years at the travel forum Flyertalk, only a handful of major U.S. banks issue chip-and-PIN cards; most have pushed chip-and-signature. Check out Flyertalk’s comprehensive Google Docs spreadsheet here for a member-contributed rundown of which banks support chip-and-PIN versus chip-and-signature.

I’ve been getting lots of questions from readers who are curious or upset at the prevalence of chip-and-signature over chip-and-PIN cards here in the United States, and I realized I didn’t know much about the reasons behind the disparity vis-a-vis other nations that have already made the switch to chip cards. So  I reached out to several experts to get their take on it.

Julie Conroy, a fraud analyst with The Aite Group, said that by and large Visa has been pushing chip-and-signature and that MasterCard has been promoting chip-and-PIN. Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said MasterCard is neutral on the technology. For its part, Visa maintains that it is agnostic on the technology, saying in an emailed statement that the company believes “requiring stakeholders to use just one form of cardholder authentication may unnecessarily complicate the adoption of this important technology.”

BK: A lot of readers seem confused about why more banks wouldn’t adopt chip-and-PIN over chip-and-signature, given that the former protects against more forms of fraud.

Conroy: The PIN only addresses fraud when the card is lost or stolen, and in the U.S. market lost-and-stolen fraud is very small in comparison with counterfeit card fraud. Also, as we looked at other geographies — and our research has substantiated this — as you see these geographies go chip-and-PIN, the lost-and-stolen fraud dips a little bit but then the criminals adjust. So in the UK, the lost-and-stolen fraud is now back above where was before the migration. The criminals there have adjusted. and that increased focus on capturing the PIN gives them more opportunity, because if they do figure out ways to compromise that PIN, then they can perpetrate ATM fraud and get more bang for their buck.

So, PIN at the end of the day is a static data element, and it only goes so far from a security perspective. And as you weigh that potential for attrition versus the potential to address the relatively small amount of fraud that is lost and stolen fraud, the business case for chip and signature is really a no-brainer.

Litan: Most card issuing banks and Visa don’t want PINs because the PINs can be stolen and used with the magnetic stripe data on the same cards (that also have a chip card) to withdraw cash from ATM machines. Banks eat the ATM fraud costs. This scenario has happened with the roll-out of chip cards with PIN – in Europe and in Canada. Continue reading →