Posts Tagged: avivah litan

Aug 16

Visa Alert and Update on the Oracle Breach

Credit card industry giant Visa on Friday issued a security alert warning companies using point-of-sale devices made by Oracle‘s MICROS retail unit to double-check the machines for malicious software or unusual network activity, and to change passwords on the devices. Visa also published a list of Internet addresses that may have been involved in the Oracle breach and are thought to be closely tied to an Eastern European organized cybercrime gang.


The Visa alert is the first substantive document that tries to help explain what malware and which malefactors might have hit Oracle — and by extension many of Oracle’s customers — since KrebsOnSecurity broke news of the breach on Aug. 8. That story cited sources close to the investigation saying hackers had broken into hundreds of servers at Oracle’s retail division, and had completely compromised Oracle’s main online support portal for MICROS customers.

MICROS is among the top three point-of-sale vendors globally. Oracle’s MICROS division sells point-of-sale systems used at more than 330,000 cash registers worldwide. When Oracle bought MICROS in 2014, the company said MICROS’s systems were deployed at some 200,000+ food and beverage outlets, 100,000+ retail sites, and more than 30,000 hotels.

In short, tens of millions of credit cards are swiped at MICROS terminals monthly, and a breach involving the theft of credentials that might have granted remote access to even just a small percentage of those systems is potentially a big and costly problem for all involved.

So far, however, most MICROS customers are left scratching their heads for answers. A frequently asked questions bulletin (PDF) Oracle also released last Monday held little useful information. Oracle issued the same cryptic response to everyone who asked for particulars about how far the breach extended. “Oracle has detected and addressed malicious code in certain legacy MICROS systems.”

Oracle also urged MICROS customers to change their passwords, and said “we also recommend that you change the password for any account that was used by a MICROS representative to access your on-premises systems.”

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

Some technology and fraud experts, including Gartner Analyst Avivah Litan, read that statement highlighted in yellow above as an acknowledgement by Oracle that hackers may have abused credentials gained in the MICROS portal breach to plant malicious code on the point-of-sale devices run by an unknown number of MICROS customers.

“This [incident] could explain a lot about the source of some of these retail and merchant point-of-sale hacks that nobody has been able to definitively tie to any one point-of-sale services provider,” Litan told me last week. “I’d say there’s a big chance that the hackers in this case found a way to get remote access” to MICROS customers’ on-premises point-of-sale devices.”

Clearly, Visa is concerned about this possibility as well.


In my original story about the breach, I wasn’t able to reveal all the data I’d gathered about the apparent source of the attacks and attackers. A key source in that story asked that I temporarily delay publishing certain details of the investigation, specifically those known as indicators of compromise (IOCs). Basically, IOCs are list of suspect Internet addresses, domain names, filenames and other curious digital clues that are thought to connect the victim with its attacker.

I’ve been inundated all week with calls and emails from security experts asking for that very data, but sharing it wasn’t my call. That is, until yesterday (8/12/16), when Visa published a “merchant communication alert” to some customers. In that alert (PDF), Visa published IOCs that may be connected with the intrusion. These IOCs could be extremely useful to MICROS customers because the presence of Internet traffic to and from these online destinations would strongly suggest the organization’s point-of-sale systems may be similarly compromised.

Some of the addresses on this list from Visa are known to be associated with the Carbanak Gang, a group of Eastern European hackers that Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates has stolen more than $1 billion from banks and retailers. Here’s the IOCs list from the alert Visa pushed out Friday:

VISA warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called "Carbanak."

Visa warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called “Carbanak.”

Thankfully, since at least one of the addresses listed above ( matched what’s on my source’s list, the source agreed to let me publish the entire thing. Here it is. I checked my source’s list and found at least five Internet addresses that were seen in both the Oracle attack and in a Sept. 2015 writeup about Carbanak by ESET Security, a Slovakian antivirus and security company. [NB: If you are unskilled at safely visiting malicious Web sites and/or handling malware, it’s probably best not to visit the addresses in the above-linked list.]

Visa also mentioned a specific POS-malware threat in its alert called “MalumPOS.” According to researchers at Trend Micro, MalumPOS is malware designed to target point-of-sale systems in hotels and related industries. In fact, Trend found that MalumPOS is set up to collect data specifically from point-of-sale systems running on Oracle’s MICROS platform.

It should come as no surprise then that many of Oracle’s biggest customers in the hospitality industry are starting to make noise, accusing Oracle of holding back key information that could help MICROS-based companies stop and clean up breaches involving malware and stolen customer credit card data.

“Oracle’s silence has been deafening,” said Michael Blake, chief executive officer at HTNG, a trade association for hotels and technology. “They are still grappling and trying to answer questions on the extent of the breach. Oracle has been invited to the last three [industry] calls this week and they are still going about trying to reach each customer individually and in the process of doing so they have done nothing but given the lame advice of changing passwords.”

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by point-of-sale compromises over the past two years. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news of a breach at Kimpton Hotels (Kimpton appears to run MICROS products, but the company declined to answer questions for this story).

Kimpton joins a long list of hotel brands that have acknowledged card breaches over the last year, including Trump Hotels (twice), Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, and White Lodging (twice), Starwood Hotels and Hyatt. In many of those incidents, thieves had planted malicious software on the point-of-sale devices at restaurants and bars inside of the hotel chains. And, no doubt, many of those cash registers were run on MICROS systems.

If Oracle doesn’t exactly know which — if any — of its MICROS customers had malware on their point-of-sale systems as a result of the breach, it may be because the network intruders didn’t have any reason to interact with Oracle’s customers via the MICROS portal after stealing usernames and passwords that would allow them to remotely access customer on-premises systems. In theory, at that point the fraudsters could have bypassed Oracle altogether from then on. Continue reading →

Jul 16

Cybercrime Overtakes Traditional Crime in UK

In a notable sign of the times, cybercrime has now surpassed all other forms of crime in the United Kingdom, the nation’s National Crime Agency (NCA) warned in a new report. It remains unclear how closely the rest of the world tracks the U.K.’s experience, but the report reminds readers that the problem is likely far worse than the numbers suggest, noting that cybercrime is vastly under-reported by victims.

ons-statThe NCA’s Cyber Crime Assessment 2016, released July 7, 2016, highlights the need for stronger law enforcement and business partnership to fight cybercrime. According to the NCA, cybercrime emerged as the largest proportion of total crime in the U.K., with “cyber enabled fraud” making up 36 percent of all crime reported, and “computer misuse” accounting for 17 percent.

One explanation for the growth of cybercrime reports in the U.K. may be that the Brits are getting better at tracking it. The report notes that the U.K. Office of National Statistics only began including cybercrime for the first time last year in its annual Crime Survey for England and Wales.

“The ONS estimated that there were 2.46 million cyber incidents and 2.11 million victims of cyber crime in the U.K. in 2015,” the report’s authors wrote. “These figures highlight the clear shortfall in established reporting, with only 16,349 cyber dependent and approximately 700,000 cyber-enabled incidents reported to Action Fraud over the same period.”

The report also focuses on the increasing sophistication of organized cybercrime gangs that develop and deploy targeted, complex malicious software — such as Dridex and Dyre, which are aimed at emptying consumer and business bank accounts in the U.K. and elsewhere.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., said cyber fraudsters in the U.K. bring their best game when targeting U.K. banks, which generally require far more stringent customer-facing security measures than U.S. banks — including smart cards and one-time tokens.

“I’m definitely hearing more about advanced attacks on U.K. banks than in the U.S.,” Litan said, adding that the anti-fraud measures put in place by U.K. banks have forced cybercriminals to focus more on social engineering U.K. retail and commercial banking customers. Continue reading →

Jun 16

Rise of Darknet Stokes Fear of The Insider

With the proliferation of shadowy black markets on the so-called “darknet” — hidden crime bazaars that can only be accessed through special software that obscures one’s true location online — it has never been easier for disgruntled employees to harm their current or former employer. At least, this is the fear driving a growing stable of companies seeking technical solutions to detect would-be insiders.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., says she’s been inundated recently with calls from organizations asking what they can do to counter the following scenario: A disaffected or disgruntled employee creates a persona on a darknet market and offers to sell his company’s intellectual property or access to his employer’s network.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

Litan said a year ago she might have received one such inquiry a month; now Litan says she’s getting multiple calls a week, often from companies that are in a panic.

“I’m getting calls from lots of big companies, including manufacturers, banks, pharmaceutical firms and retailers,” she said. “A year ago, no one wanted to say whether they had or were seriously worried about insiders, but that’s changing.”

Insiders don't have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous.

Insiders don’t have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous, as this darknet forum discussion thread illustrates.

Some companies with tremendous investments in intellectual property — particularly pharmaceutical and healthcare firms — are working with law enforcement or paying security firms to monitor and track actors on the darknet that promise access to specific data or organizations, Litan said. Continue reading →

Sep 15

Bidding for Breaches, Redefining Targeted Attacks

A growing community of private and highly-vetted cybercrime forums is redefining the very meaning of “targeted attacks.” These bid-and-ask forums match crooks who are looking for access to specific data, resources or systems within major corporations with hired muscle who are up to the task or who already have access to those resources.

A good example of this until recently could be found at a secretive online forum called “Enigma,” a now-defunct community that was built as kind of eBay for data breach targets. Vetted users on Enigma were either bidders or buyers — posting requests for data from or access to specific corporate targets, or answering such requests with a bid to provide the requested data. The forum, operating on the open Web for months until recently, was apparently scuttled when the forum administrators (rightly) feared that the community had been infiltrated by spies.

The screen shot below shows several bids on Enigma from March through June 2015, requesting data and services related to HSBC UK, Citibank, Air Berlin and Bank of America:

Enigma, an exclusive forum for cyber thieves to buy and sell access to or data stolen from companies.

Enigma, an exclusive forum for cyber thieves to buy and sell access to or data stolen from companies.

One particularly active member, shown in the screen shot above and the one below using the nickname “Demander,” posts on Jan. 10, 2015 that he is looking for credentials from Cisco and that the request is urgent (it’s unclear from the posting whether he’s looking for access to Cisco Corp. or simply to a specific Cisco router). Demander also was searching for services related to Bank of America ATMs and unspecified data or services from Wells Fargo.

More bids on Enigma forum for services.

More bids on Enigma forum for services, data, and access to major corporations.

Much of the information about Enigma comes from Noam Jolles, a senior intelligence expert at Diskin Advanced Technologies. The employees at Jolles’ firm are all former members of Shin Bet, a.k.a. the Israel Security Agency/General Security Service — Israel’s counterespionage and counterterrorism agency, and similar to the British MI5 or the American FBI. The firm’s namesake comes from its founder, Yuval Diskin, who headed Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011.

“On Enigma, members post a bid and call on people to attack certain targets or that they are looking for certain databases for which they are willing to pay,” Jolles said. “And people are answering it and offering their merchandise.”

Those bids can take many forms, Jolles said, from requests to commit a specific cyberattack to bids for access to certain Web servers or internal corporate networks.

“I even saw bids regarding names of people who could serve as insiders,” she said. “Lists of people who might be susceptible to being recruited or extorted.”

Many experts believe the breach that exposed tens of millions user accounts at — an infidelity site that promises to hook up cheating spouses — originated from or was at least assisted by an insider at the company. Interestingly, on June 25, 2015 — three weeks before news of the breach broke — a member on a related secret data-trading forum called the “Gentlemen’s Club” solicits “data and service” related to AshleyMadison, saying “Don’t waste time if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Big job opportunity.”

On June 26, 2015, a forum member named "Diablo" requests data and services related to

On June 26, 2015, a “Gentlemen’s Club” forum member named “Diablo” requests data and services related to

Cybercrime forums like Enigma vet new users and require non-refundable deposits of virtual currency (such as Bitcoin). More importantly, they have strict rules: If the forum administrators notice you’re not trading with others on the forum, you’ll soon be expelled from the community. This policy means that users who are not actively involved in illicit activities — such as buying or selling access to hacked resources — aren’t allowed to remain on the board for long. Continue reading →

Jun 15

Breach at Winery Card Processor Missing Link

Missing Link Networks Inc., a credit card processor and point-of-sale vendor that serves a number of wineries in Northern California and elsewhere, disclosed today that a breach of its networks exposed card data for transactions it processed in the month of April 2015.

ecellarEarlier this week, I heard from a source at one of Sonoma, Calif.’s fancier wineries that their card processor had been breached. On Tuesday, I reached out to Calistoga, Calif. based Missing Link. Today, the company responded that it had begun notifying its customers about the incident, and that it was working with law enforcement and the card associations on an investigation.

“Beginning on May 27, 2015, we began notifying our winery customers that eCellar Systems, our consumer-direct sales platform, had been breached during the month of April, 2015 by an unknown intruder,” the company’s founder and CEO, Paul Thienes, said in a written statement. “To that end, each of our winery clients will be sending out notice of this event to their customers and it is likely that individual consumers may receive a similar notice from multiple wineries.”

“The intruder gained access to customer names, credit/debit card numbers, the related billing addresses, and any dates of birth in our system during the window of April 1st through 30th this year,” Thienes wrote. “The intruder did not have access to any driver license numbers, Social Security numbers, CVV verification numbers, or PIN numbers (data which we would typically not collect anyway). We have identified and secured the method that was used to breach our platform. Additionally, to prevent a future reoccurrence, we are in the process of converting to a ‘token’ system so that credit card numbers will no longer be stored by the eCellar platform.” Continue reading →

Apr 15

‘Revolution’ Crimeware & EMV Replay Attacks

In October 2014, KrebsOnSecurity examined a novel “replay” attack that sought to exploit implementation weaknesses at U.S. financial institutions that were in the process of transitioning to more secure chip-based credit and debit cards. Today’s post looks at one service offered in the cybercrime underground to help thieves perpetrate this type of fraud.

Several U.S. financial institutions last year reported receiving tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit and debit card transactions coming from Brazil and hitting card accounts stolen in recent retail heists, principally cards compromised as part of the October 2014 breach at Home Depot. The affected banks were puzzled by the attacks because the fraudulent transactions were all submitted through Visa and MasterCard‘s networks as chip-enabled transactions, even though the banks that issued the cards in question hadn’t yet begun sending customers chip-enabled cards.

Seller in underground forum describes his "Revolution" software to conduct  EMV card fraud against banks that haven't implemented EMV correctly .

Seller in underground forum describes his “Revolution” software to conduct EMV card fraud against banks that haven’t implemented EMV fully.

Fraud experts said the most likely explanation for the activity was that crooks were pushing regular magnetic stripe transactions through the card network as chip card purchases using a technique known as a “replay” attack. According to one bank interviewed at the time, MasterCard officials explained that the thieves were likely in control of a payment terminal and had the ability to manipulate data fields for transactions put through that terminal. After capturing traffic from a real chip-based chip card transaction, the thieves could insert stolen card data into the transaction stream, while modifying the merchant and acquirer bank account data on-the-fly.

Recently, KrebsOnSecurity encountered a fraudster in a popular cybercrime forum selling a fairly sophisticated software-as-a-service package to do just that. The seller, a hacker who reportedly specializes in selling skimming products to help thieves steal card data from ATMs and point-of-sale devices, calls his product “Revolution” and offers to provide buyers with a list of U.S. financial institutions that have not fully or properly implemented systems for accepting and validating chip-card transactions. Continue reading →

Mar 15

Apple Pay: Bridging Online and Big Box Fraud

Lost amid the media firestorm these past few weeks about fraudsters turning to Apple Pay is this stark and rather unsettling reality: Apple Pay makes it possible for cyber thieves to buy high-priced merchandise from brick-and-mortar stores using stolen credit and debit card numbers that were heretofore only useful for online fraud.

applepayTo understand what’s going on here, a quick primer on card fraud is probably in order. If you’re a fraudster and you wish to walk into a Best Buy store and walk out with a big screen TV or xBox console on someone else’s dime, you’re going to buy “dumps,” which are data stolen straight off the magnetic stripe on the backs of cards.

Typically, dumps are stolen via malware planted on point-of-sale devices, as in the breaches at brick-and-mortar stores like Target, Home Depot and countless others over the past year. Dumps buyers encode the data onto new plastic, which they then use “in-store” at retailers and walk out with armloads full of high-priced goods that can be easily resold for cash. The average price of a single dump is between $10-$30, but the payoff in stolen merchandise per card is often many times that amount.

When fraudsters want to order something online using stolen credit cards, they go buy what the crooks call “CVVs” — i.e., card data stolen from hacked online stores. CVV stands for “card verification code,” and refers to the three-digit code on the back of cards that’s required for most online transactions. Fraudsters buying CVVs get the credit card number, the expiration date, the card verification code, as well as the cardholder’s name, address and phone number. Because they’re less versatile than dumps, CVVs cost quite a bit less — typically around $1-$5 per stolen account.

So in summary, dumps are stolen from main-street merchants, and are sought after by crooks mainly for use at main street merchants. CVVs, on the other hand, are stolen from online stores, and are useful only for fraud against online stores.

Enter Apple Pay, which potentially erases that limitation of CVVs because it allows users to sign up online for an in-store payment method using little more than a hacked iTunes account and CVVs. That’s because most banks that are enabling Apple Pay for their customers do little, if anything, to require that customers prove they have the physical card in their possession.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc. explained a blog post published earlier this month that Apple provides banks with a fair amount of data to aid banks in their efforts at “identity proofing” the customer, such as device name, its current geographic location, and whether or not the customer has a long history of transactions with iTunes.

All useful data points, of course, unless the iTunes account that all of this information is based on is hijacked by fraudsters. And as we know from previous stories on this blog, there is a robust trade in the cybercrime underground for hijacked iTunes accounts, which retail for about $8 per account.

Continue reading →

Feb 15

Banks: Card Thieves Hit White Lodging Again

For the second time in a year, multiple financial institutions are complaining of fraud on customer credit and debit cards that were all recently used at a string of Marriott properties run by hotel franchise firm White Lodging Services Corporation. White Lodging says it is investigating, but that so far it has found no signs of a new breach.

whitelodgingIn January 31, 2014, this author first reported evidence of a breach at some White Lodging locations. The Merrillville, Ind. based company confirmed a breach three days later, saying hackers had installed malicious software on cash registers in food and beverage outlets at 14 locations nationwide, and that the intruders had been stealing customer card data from these outlets for approximately nine months.

Fast-forward to late January 2015, and KrebsOnSecurity again began hearing from several financial institutions who had traced a pattern of counterfeit card fraud back to accounts that were all used at Marriott properties across the country.

Banking sources say the cards that were compromised in this most recent incident look like they were stolen from many of the same White Lodging locations implicated in the 2014 breach, including hotels in Austin, Texas, Bedford Park, Ill., Denver, Indianapolis, and Louisville, Kentucky.  Those same sources said the compromises appear once again to be tied to hacked cash registers at food and beverage establishments within the White Lodging run hotels. The legitimate hotel transactions that predated fraudulent card charges elsewhere range from mid-September 2014 to January 2015.

Contacted about the findings, Marriott spokesman Jeff Flaherty said all of the properties cited by the banks as source of card fraud are run by White Lodging.

“We recently were made aware of the possibility of unusual credit card transactions at a number of hotels operated by one of our franchise management companies,” Flaherty said. “We understand the franchise company is looking into the matter. Because the suspected issue is related to systems that Marriott does not own or control, we do not have additional information to provide.”

I reached out to White Lodging on Jan. 31. In an emailed statement sent today, White Lodging spokesperson Kathleen Sebastian said the company engaged a security firm to investigate the reports, but so far that team has found no indication of a compromise.

“From your inquiry, we have engaged a full forensic audit of the properties in question,” Sebastian wrote. “We appreciate your concern, and we are taking this information very seriously. To this date, we have found no identifiable infection that would lead us to believe a breach has occurred. Our investigation is ongoing.”

Sebastian went on to say that in the past year, White Lodging has adopted a number of new security measures, including the installation of a third-party managed firewall system, dual-factor authentication for critical systems, and “various other systems as guided by our third-party cyber security service. While we have executed additional security protocols, we do not wish to specifically disclose full details of all security measure to the public.” 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 →

Oct 14

‘Replay’ Attacks Spoof Chip Card Charges

An odd new pattern of credit card fraud emanating from Brazil and targeting U.S. financial institutions could spell costly trouble for banks that are just beginning to issue customers more secure chip-based credit and debit cards.

emvblueOver the past week, at least three U.S. financial institutions reported receiving tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit and debit card transactions coming from Brazil and hitting card accounts stolen in recent retail heists, principally cards compromised as part of the breach at Home Depot.

The most puzzling aspect of these unauthorized charges? They were all submitted through Visa and MasterCard‘s networks as chip-enabled transactions, even though the banks that issued the cards in question haven’t even yet begun sending customers chip-enabled cards.

The most frustrating aspect of these unauthorized charges? They’re far harder for the bank to dispute. Banks usually end up eating the cost of fraud from unauthorized transactions when scammers counterfeit and use stolen credit cards. Even so, a bank may be able to recover some of that loss through dispute mechanisms set up by Visa and MasterCard, as long as the bank can show that the fraud was the result of a breach at a specific merchant (in this case Home Depot).

However, banks are responsible for all of the fraud costs that occur from any fraudulent use of their customers’ chip-enabled credit/debit cards — even fraudulent charges disguised as these pseudo-chip transactions.


The bank I first heard from about this fraud — a small financial institution in New England — battled some $120,000 in fraudulent charges from Brazilian stores in less than two days beginning last week. The bank managed to block $80,000 of those fraudulent charges, but the bank’s processor, which approves incoming transactions when the bank’s core systems are offline, let through the other $40,000. All of the transactions were debit charges, and all came across MasterCard’s network looking to MasterCard like chip transactions without a PIN.

The fraud expert with the New England bank said the institution had decided against reissuing customer cards that were potentially compromised in the five-month breach at Home Depot, mainly because that would mean reissuing a sizable chunk of the bank’s overall card base and because the bank had until that point seen virtually no fraud on the accounts.

“We saw very low penetration rates on our Home Depot cards, so we didn’t do a mass reissue,” the expert said. “And then in one day we matched a month’s worth of fraud on those cards thanks to these charges from Brazil.” Continue reading →