Last week, several thousand credit card payment terminals at various retailers across the country suddenly stopped working, their LCD displays showing blank screens instead of numbers and letters. Puzzled merchants began to worry that this was perhaps part of some sophisticated hacker attack on their cash registers. It turns out that the incident was indeed security-related, but for once it had nothing to do with cyber thieves.
On Dec. 7, 2014, certain older model payment terminals made by Hypercom stopped working due to the expiration of a cryptographic certificate used in the devices, according to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Equinox Payments, the company that owns the Hypercom brand.
“The security mechanism was triggered by the rollover of the date and not by any attack on or breach of the terminal,” said Stuart Taylor, vice president of payment solutions at Equinox. “The certificate was created in 2004 with a 10 year expiry date.”
Taylor said Equinox is now working with customers, distributors and channel partners to replace the certificate to return terminals to an operational state. The company is pointing affected customers who still need assistance to this certificate expiry help page.
“Many of these terminals have been successfully updated in the field,” Taylor said. “Unfortunately, a subset of them can’t be fixed in the field which means they’ll need to be sent to our repair facility. We are working with our customers and distribution partners to track down where these terminals are and will provide whatever assistance we can to minimize any disruption as a result of this matter.”
According to two different merchants impacted by the incident that reached out to KrebsOnSecurity, the bricking of these payment terminals occurs only after the affected devices (in the 4x version of the terminals) are power-cycled or rebooted, which some merchants do daily.
Michael Rochette, vice president at Spencer Technologies, a Northborough, Mass.-based technology installation and support company, said his firm heard last week from an East Coast supermarket chain that opened for business on Monday morning only to find all of their payment terminals unresponsive. Rochette said that the supermarket chain and other retailers impacted by the incident across the country were immediately worried that the incident was part of a hacker attack on their payment infrastructure.
“Not all stores power cycle overnight, but for those that do, they came up all blank and inoperative,” Rochette said. “If that’s something that a retail chain does as a matter of policy across a whole chain of stores, that can be pretty damaging.” Continue reading →