Posts Tagged: Aite Group

May 16

Skimmers Found at Walmart: A Closer Look

Recent local news stories about credit card skimmers found in self-checkout lanes at some Walmart locations reminds me of a criminal sales pitch I saw recently for overlay skimmers made specifically for the very same card terminals.

Much like the skimmers found at some Safeway locations earlier this year, the skimming device pictured below was designed to be installed in the blink of an eye at self-checkout lanes — as in recent incidents at Walmart stores in Fredericksburg, Va. and Fort Wright, Ky. In these attacks, the skimmers were made to piggyback on card readers sold by payment solutions company Ingenico.

A skimmer made to be fitted to an Ingenico credit card terminal of the kind used at Walmart stores across the country. Image: Hold Security.

A skimmer made to be fitted to an Ingenico credit card terminal of the kind used at Walmart stores across the country. Image: Hold Security.

This Ingenico “overlay” skimmer has a PIN pad overlay to capture the user’s PIN, and a mechanism for recording the data stored on a card’s magnetic stripe when customers swipe their cards at self-checkout aisles. The wire pictured at the bottom is for offloading the data from the card skimmers once thieves have retrieved the devices from compromised checkout lanes.

This particular skimmer retails for between $200 to $300, but that price doesn’t include the electronics that power the device and store the stolen card data.

Here’s how this skimmer looks when it’s attached. Think you’d be able to spot it?


Image credit: Hold Security.

Walmart last year began asking customers with more secure chip-enabled cards to dip the chip instead of swipe the stripe. Chip-based cards are more expensive and difficult for thieves to counterfeit, and they can help mitigate the threat from most modern card-skimming methods that read the cardholder data in plain text from the card’s magnetic stripe. Those include malicious software at the point-of-sale terminal, as well as physical skimmers placed over card readers at self-checkout lanes. Continue reading →

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 →

Aug 14

DQ Breach? HQ Says No, But Would it Know?

Sources in the financial industry say they’re seeing signs that Dairy Queen may be the latest retail chain to be victimized by cybercrooks bent on stealing credit and debit card data. Dairy Queen says it has no indication of a card breach at any of its thousands of locations, but the company also acknowledges that nearly all stores are franchises and that there is no established company process or requirement that franchisees communicate security issues or card breaches to Dairy Queen headquarters.

Update, Aug. 28, 12:08 p.m. ET: A spokesman for Dairy Queen has confirmed that the company recently heard from the U.S. Secret Service about “suspicious activity” related to a strain of card-stealing malware found in hundreds of other retail intrusions. Dairy Queen says it is still investigating and working with authorities, and does not yet know how many stores may be impacted.

Original story:

dqI first began hearing reports of a possible card breach at Dairy Queen at least two weeks ago, but could find no corroborating signs of it — either by lurking in shadowy online “card shops” or from talking with sources in the banking industry. Over the past few days, however, I’ve heard from multiple financial institutions that say they’re dealing with a pattern of fraud on cards that were all recently used at various Dairy Queen locations in several states. There are also indications that these same cards are being sold in the cybercrime underground.

The latest report in the trenches came from a credit union in the Midwestern United States. The person in charge of fraud prevention at this credit union reached out wanting to know if I’d heard of a breach at Dairy Queen, stating that the financial institution had detected fraud on cards that had all been recently used at a half-dozen Dairy Queen locations in and around its home state.

According to the credit union, more than 50 customers had been victimized by a blizzard of card fraud just in the past few days alone after using their credit and debit cards at Dairy Queen locations — some as far away as Florida — and the pattern of fraud suggests the DQ stores were compromised at least as far back as early June 2014.

“We’re getting slammed today,” the fraud manager said Tuesday morning of fraud activity tracing back to member cards used at various Dairy Queen locations in the past three weeks. “We’re just getting all kinds of fraud cases coming in from members having counterfeit copies of their cards being used at dollar stores and grocery stores.”

Other financial institutions contacted by this reporter have seen recent fraud on cards that were all used at Dairy Queen locations in Florida and several other states, including Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

On Friday, Aug. 22, KrebsOnSecurity spoke with Dean Peters, director of communications for the Minneapolis-based fast food chain. Peters said the company had heard no reports of card fraud at individual DQ locations, but he stressed that nearly all of Dairy Queen stores were independently owned and operated. When asked whether DQ had any sort of requirement that its franchisees notify the company in the event of a security breach or problem with their card processing systems, Peters said no.

“At this time, there is no such policy,” Peters said. “We would assist them if [any franchisees] reached out to us about a breach, but so far we have not heard from any of our franchisees that they have had any kind of breach.”

Julie Conroy, research director at the advisory firm Aite Group, said nationwide companies like Dairy Queen should absolutely have breach notification policies in place for franchisees, if for no other reason than to protect the integrity of the company’s brand and public image.

“Without question this is a brand protection issue,” Conroy said. “This goes back to the eternal challenge with all small merchants. Even with companies like Dairy Queen, where the mother ship is huge, each of the individual establishments are essentially mom-and-pop stores, and a lot of these stores still don’t think they’re a target for this type of fraud. By extension, the mother ship is focused on herding a bunch of cats in the form of thousands of franchisees, and they’re not thinking that all of these stores are targets for cybercriminals and that they should have some sort of company-wide policy about it. In fact, franchised brands that have that sort of policy in place are far more the exception than the rule.”


The situation apparently developing with Dairy Queen is reminiscent of similar reports last month from multiple banks about card fraud traced back to dozens of locations of Jimmy John’s, a nationwide sandwich shop chain that also is almost entirely franchisee-owned. Jimmy John’s has said it is investigating the breach claims, but so far it has not confirmed reports of card breaches at any of its 1,900+ stores nationwide.

The DHS/Secret Service advisory.

The DHS/Secret Service advisory.

Rumblings of a card breach involving at least some fraction of Dairy Queen’s 4,500 domestic, independently-run stores come amid increasingly vocal warnings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service, which last week said that more than 1,000 American businesses had been hit by malicious software designed to steal credit card data from cash register systems.

In that alert, the agencies warned that hackers have been scanning networks for point-of-sale systems with remote access capabilities (think LogMeIn and pcAnywhere), and then installing malware on POS devices protected by weak and easily guessed passwords.  The alert noted that at least seven point-of-sale vendors/providers confirmed they have had multiple clients affected.

Around the time that the Secret Service alert went out, UPS Stores, a subsidiary of the United Parcel Service, said that it scanned its systems for signs of the malware described in the alert and found security breaches that may have led to the theft of customer credit and debit data at 51 UPS franchises across the United States (about 1 percent of its 4,470 franchised center locations throughout the United States). Incidentally, the way UPS handled that breach disclosure — clearly calling out the individual stores affected — should stand as a model for other companies struggling with similar breaches. Continue reading →

Jun 13

Double Cashing With Mobile Banking

The case of a Kentucky man arrested this month for using mobile banking to steal thousands of dollars from a local supermarket chain highlights the security loopholes that thieves can exploit in mobile check deposit schemes being deployed by financial institutions across the country.



Louisville, Ky. based news station WDRB Inc. carried a story last week about a local man who was arrested after allegedly using mobile banking to steal more than $12,000 from multiple Kroger stores.

“Police say 34-year-old Boma Robert Spero-Jack went into several different Kroger stores and purchased at least 32 Western Union money orders. Each money order was issued for an amount between $195 and $500, according to an arrest report. Police say he would then leave the store and deposit the money order into his Bank of America checking or savings account, via a mobile deposit. Spero-Jack would then go back into the Kroger and ‘cash’ the same money order, according to the arrest report. Later, police say he would withdraw the amount of the money order from his bank account.”

The technology that Spero-Jack is accused of exploiting — known as mobile remote deposit capture (mRDC) — allows banking customers to deposit a check by taking a picture of it with a cellphone. The risk for financial institutions that allow mRDC is that the customer retains the paper check, and can potentially deposit it again and again at other institutions.

Robert McGarvey, a reporter who wrote about the Kentucky incident for Credit Union Times, said paranoids in the banking business have long fretted about this ever since MRDC started to roll out a few years ago.

“Frankly, there have been few reported cases — there have been more accidental double deposits than criminal,” McGarvey said. “But now I am hearing about small time gangs doing this.”

McGarvey and others say this is an area that is ripe for exploitation by far more organized operations — the kind of criminal gangs recently busted for extracting tens of millions from ATM cashout schemes, or from account takeovers involving fraudulently-obtained prepaid debit cards. Those schemes involved transferring funds from compromised accounts and did not require the attackers to put up 50 percent of the cost of the fraud to start with, as was the case with the Kentucky crimes.

“The key is to open an account with fake ID, then buy a throwaway phone at WalMart,” McGarvey said. “You are then in business and very, very unlikely to get arrested. Most banks set a low limit – maybe $3,000 per day on MRDC – which also tells the crook he can get $2,999 with no sweat.”

Julie Conroy, a research director with the retail banking practice of Aite Group, a Boston-based research and advisory firm, said banks are not seeing a lot of losses due to this type of fraud…yet.

“But I think ‘yet’ is the operative word there,” Conroy said. “The product is still fairly new, with many banks just rolling out their offering in the last year or so.  Most banks are protecting the product through a combination of rules and velocities, and due to this approach, and the fact that the product is relatively new and doesn’t have a ton of volume yet, this has worked fairly well so far.  However, the service is popular with customers, and as this report shows, the bad guys are finding it too.”

Continue reading →

Jun 13

FDIC: 2011 FIS Breach Worse Than Reported

A 2011 hacker break-in at banking industry behemoth Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) was far more extensive and serious than the company disclosed in public reports, banking regulators warned FIS customers last month. The disclosure highlights a shocking lack of basic security protections throughout one of the nation’s largest financial services providers.

fisJacksonville, Fla. based FIS is one of the largest information processors for the banking industry today, handling a range of services from check and credit card processing to core banking functions for more than 14,000 financial institutions in over 100 countries.

The company came under heavy scrutiny from banking industry regulators in the first quarter of 2011, when hackers who had broken into its networks used that access to orchestrate a carefully-timed, multi-million dollar ATM heist. In that attack, the hackers raised or eliminated the daily withdrawal limits for 22 debit cards they’d obtained from FIS’s prepaid card network. The fraudsters then cloned the cards and distributed them to co-conspirators who used them to pull $13 million in cash from FIS via ATMs in several major cities across Europe, Russia and Ukraine.

FIS first publicly reported broad outlines of the breach in a May 3, 2011 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), stating that it had identified “7,170 prepaid accounts may have been at risk and that three individual cardholders’ non-public information may have been disclosed as a result of the unauthorized activities.” FIS told the SEC it worked with the impacted clients to take appropriate action, including blocking and reissuing cards for the affected accounts. “The Company has taken steps to further enhance security and continues to work with Federal law enforcement officials on this matter,” it declared in its filing.

FIS’s disclosure to investors cast the breach as limited in scope, saying the break-in was restricted to unauthorized activity at a portion of its network belonging to a small prepaid debit card provider that it acquired in 2007.  But bank examiners at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) who audited FIS’s operations in the months following the 2011 breach and again in October 2012 came to a very different conclusion: According to a report that the FDIC sent May 24, 2013 to hundreds of FIS’s customer banks and obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, the 2011 breach was much larger than previously reported.

“The initial findings have identified many additional servers exposed by the attackers; and many more instances of the malware exploits utilized in the network intrusions of 2011, which were never properly identified or assessed,”  the FDIC examiners wrote in a report from October 2012. “As a result, FIS management now recognizes that the security breach events of 2011 were not just a pre-paid card fraud event, as originally maintained, but rather are that of a broader network intrusion.”

Indeed, the FDIC’s examiners found that there was scarcely a portion of the FIS network that the hackers did not touch.

“From review of the previous investigation reports, along with other documentation provided by FIS, examiners and payment card industry experts identified over 2,000 touch points that indicated a broad exposure of internal FIS systems and client related data,” the report notes. “These systems include, but are not limited to, the The New York Currency Exchange ATM network, prime core application systems, and various Internet banking, ACH, and wire transfer systems. These touch points also indicated approximately 100 client financial institutions, which appear to have had sensitive data exposed by the attackers.”


A screen shot of an excerpt from the FDIC report on security lapses at FIS.

In an emailed statement, FIS maintained that “no client of FIS suffered any monetary loss as a result of the incident, and stressed that the report is based upon a review that was completed in October 2012.

“Since that time, FIS has continued to strengthen its information security and risk position, including investments over two years of $100 million or more, as part of our goal to provide best-in-class information security and risk management to each of our 14,000-plus clients. We have openly and regularly communicated these initiatives, our progress and results to our clients and shareholders through meetings, monthly updates, quarterly public disclosures, Board materials, educational webinars, and more.”


Nevertheless, investors may be less than pleased about how FIS is spending its security dollars. The FDIC found that even though FIS has hired a number of incident response firms and has spent more than $100 million responding to the 2011 breach, the company failed to enact some very basic security mechanisms. For example, the FDIC noted that FIS routinely uses blank or default passwords on numerous production systems and network devices, even though these were some of the same weaknesses that “contributed to the speed and ease with which attackers transgressed and exposed FIS systems during the 2011 network intrusion.”

“Many FIS systems remain configured with default passwords, no passwords, non-complex passwords, and non-expiring passwords,” the FDIC wrote. “Enterprise vulnerability scans in November 2012, noted over 10,000 instances of default passwords in use within the FIS environment.”

The bank auditors also found “a high number of unresolved network and application vulnerabilities remain throughout the enterprise.

“The Executive Summary Scan reports from November 2012 show 18,747 network vulnerabilities and over 291 application vulnerabilities as past due,” the report charges.

What’s more, investigators probing the breach at FIS may have been denied key clues about the source of the intrusion because FIS incident response personnel wiped many of the compromised systems and put them back on the network before the machines could be properly examined.

“Many systems were re-constituted and introduced back into the production environment before data preservation techniques were applied,” the report notes. “Additionally, poor forensic preservation techniques led to numerous servers being re-imaged before analysis was completed and significant logging data was inadvertently destroyed. Several servers, key to the investigation process, were re-introduced into the production environment and subsequently re-compromised due to misconfigured baselines and inadequate security testing outside of corporate policy.”

Continue reading →