Target security breach appears to be part of broader scam


The security breach that hit Target Corp. during the crucial holiday season seemed to be part of a broader and highly sophisticated scam that affected several retailers. (Steven Senne/AP)
January 16

The security breach that hit Target during the holiday season appears to have been part of a broader and highly sophisticated scam that potentially affected a large number of retailers, according to a report published by a global cyberintelligence firm that works with the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, made public Thursday by iSight Partners of Dallas, offers more insight into the breach at Target. That attack affected 40 million credit and debit card accounts and led to the theft of personal information, including e-mail addresses and names, of as many as 70 million customers.

The report said a malicious program vacuuming personal data from terminals at store checkout stations was “almost certainly derived” from BlackPOS, a crude but effective piece of software that contained malware scripts with Russian origins.

“The use of malware to compromise payment information storage systems is not new,” the report said. “However, it is the first time we have seen this attack at this scale and sophistication.”

[Reuters reported that on Thursday the U.S. government provided merchants with information gleaned from its confidential investigation into the data breach at Target in a move aimed at identifying and thwarting similar attacks that may be ongoing. ISight helped prepare the report, called “Indicators for Network Defenders,” along with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, the U.S. Secret Service and the Financial Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry security group.]

Starting in June, iSight said it noticed the malicious software codes on the black market, the report said.

Criminals bought the original malware on the black market and then created their own attack method to target retailers’ terminals at store checkout stations, iSight chief executive John P. Watters said.

“It’s less about the malware but more about the sophistication of the attacks,” Watters said in an interview.

The iSight report noted that because this kind of software can “cover its own tracks,” it’s not possible to determine the scale, scope and reach of the breach without detailed forensic analysis.

“Organizations may not know they are infected,” the report said. “Once infected, they may not be able to determine how much data has been lost.”

Last week, Neiman Marcus said thieves stole some of its customers’ payment information and made unauthorized charges over the holidays. At the time, it said it was working with the Secret Service on the breach.

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