Shoppers who got their holiday gifts at Target may have gotten an unwelcome one as well. The retailer announced that over 40 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen in a data breach. The breach occurred when hackers compromised the POS (Point of Sale) software that runs the store's registers. Every time a card was swiped, the hackers got the numbers. The Secret Service is investigating and Target says they are conducting their own investigation as well:
"Your trust is a top priority for Target, and we deeply regret the inconvenience this may cause," Target said in a letter to customers posted to its website. "The privacy and protection of our guestsí information is a matter we take very seriously and we have worked swiftly to resolve the incident."
Target added that debit and credit card PIN numbers were also stolen, but since they were encrypted, they should remain safe. However, whether thatís true depends on the hackers that stole them and the level of their skills. Unencrypting stolen data isnít above some cybergangs.
Shoppers who used the companyís website are safe, but anyone who shopped at the store should contact their bank or credit card provider and have a new card issued to them. Data breaches are nothing new and they are likely to continue to happen because the information stolen from them is valuable. An entire underground marketplace exists where cybercriminals buy and sell bank account numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, and other sensitive data. This supports a booming black market economy.
To protect yourself, only use ATMs branded with your bank or other well-known banks. Avoid the generic ones often found at gas stations and convenience stores. While itís best to use a credit card due to the built in protection, as long as your debit card has a MasterCard or Visa logo on it, it has protection too. You have to contact your bank quickly though, so itís a good idea to check your bank account regularly. Most banks will only hold you responsible for $50 in fraudulent charges, and many wonít hold you responsible for any at all.
Shop smart and be safe!