Target Data Theft Fuels New Worries on Cybersecurity

By Tiffany Hsu, Walter Hamilton and Chris O’Brien
Los Angeles Times

As millions of bargain-crazed customers swarmed through Target stores on Black Friday, one of the most audacious heists in retail history was quietly underway.

A band of cyberthieves pilfered credit and debit card information from the giant retailer’s customers with pinpoint efficiency as shoppers bought discounted sweaters and electronic gear on the unofficial launch of the holiday shopping season.

By the time the scheme was discovered, the unidentified hackers had made off with financial data of 40 million Target customers over a 2 {-week period. It ranks as one of the nation’s biggest retail cybercrimes on record.
Target disclosed the security breach Thursday, saying the thieves had purloined customer names, card numbers and a security code encrypted in the magnetic strip. The theft enables the culprits to make phony credit cards, make fraudulent purchases or siphon money from bank accounts.

The data breach underscored the evolving sophistication of cybercriminals and the persistent vulnerability of retailers and consumers despite dozens of past incidents at major retailers.

“How do you get 40 million credit cards and no one knows about it?” said Ken Stasiak, chief executive of SecureState, which investigates cybercrimes. “That’s a hell of a lot of credit cards. There should have been someone inside the company who spotted this much sooner.”

The Target attack appeared to be well thought out and executed with great precision.
The Minneapolis retailer said the hack occurred between Nov. 27, just before the annual holiday shopping frenzy, and Dec. 15. The breach affects people who bought goods at any of Target’s 1,797 stores nationwide, but doesn’t affect those who made purchases online.

In previous attacks against retailers, “skimmers” placed inside credit-card machines at checkout counters grabbed data from the cards’ magnetic stripes. Hackers have also targeted Wi-Fi networks that transmit data within stores.

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