Retailers under the attack

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Point-of-sale systems are vulnerable because of widespread lack of security, including poor or nonexistent encryption of data, software vulnerabilities, reliance on out-of-date software suchas Microsoft Windows XP (which Microsoft stopped supporting in 2014), and the slow adoption of chip-and-PIN technology outside Europe. With new ways to pay, such as Apple Pay, and chipand-PIN cards finally being adopted in the United States, point-of-sale datashould become more secure over the next few years. Nonetheless, point-of-sale systems are likely to remain a top target for attacks in the near term. Credit card companies are quick to spot anomalous spending patterns, as are observant card owners. This means that criminals need a steady supply of “fresh” card numbers, and the online economy provides a ready market of buyers and sellers.
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Attackers clearly have retailers in their cross hairs, if the increase in data breaches containing financial information is any indication. The retail industry again has the dubious distinction of being the industry liable for the largest number of identities exposed, accounting for almost 60 percent of all identities reported exposed, up from 30 percent in 2013. Financial information has moved to the fourth most common type of information exposed in a breach. In 2013, 17.8 percent of breaches contained financial information, but in 2014 this number jumped to 35.5 percent. This financial information can range from bank account details to tax-related documents, but, inmost cases, this information is credit or debit card details. Online retailers play a significant part, but so do attacks on point-of-sale systems: the credit card swipe machines that have become so ubiquitous in our retail lives.
Although the first attacks on retail point-of-sale systems date back to 2005, Symantec saw an upsurge in attacks in 2014. It is now one of the biggest sources of stolen payment card data and is at the root of 2013’s and 2014’s biggest data breaches.
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