Monday, April 25, 2016

Compromise of Credit Card Numbers

Recently FireEye published an intelligence report stating that a previously unknown cybercrime group has hacked into numerous organizations in the retail and hospitality sectors to steal an estimated 20 million payment cards, collectively worth an estimated $400 million on the "cybercrime" black market.

To a near approximation, all credit card numbers more than a few months old are public. The market price has dropped to pennies. We are all equally targets of opportunity. That any one of us has not been a victim of fraud is mere chance. They have so many that they simply cannot get to us all.

The brands are at fault for marketing a broken system, one that relies upon the secrecy of credit card numbers but which passes them around and stores them in the clear. Their business model is at risk. They have technology, EMV, tokenization, and checkout proxies, but the first is too slow for many applications and they are not promoting the other two to merchants or consumers.

Issuers take much of the fraud risk. They are attempting, with some short run success, to push this to the merchants.  However, with merchants and consumers, they share in the risk of our broken system.

As the referenced report suggests, bricks and mortar merchants, particularly "big box" retailers and hospitality,  are finding that both issuers and consumers are blaming them for the disclosure of the numbers. Issuers are charging back fraudulent transactions. and suing merchants for the expense of issuing new cards after a breach. Their systems are being penetrated and numbers ex-filtrated wholesale. Point of sale devices are being compromised, or even replaced, to capture debit card numbers and PINs. These are used to produce counterfeit cards.  Some of these are used to,purchase gift cards or get cash at ATMs. Merchant brands have been badly damaged by bad publicity surrounding breaches. While most of these merchants can resist compromise, there are more than enough to guarantee that some will fall. Merchants can reduce fraudulent transactions by preferring mobile, EMV cards, and by checking cards, signatures, and IDs but all but the first slow the transaction and inconvenience the customer.

Online merchants are the target of all kinds of "card not present" scams and take the full cost of the fraud. While it will not stop the fraud, the online merchants can both protect themselves and speed up the transaction by not accepting credit cards and using only proxies like PayPal, Visa Checkout, Apple Pay, and Amazon.

While, at least by default, consumers are protected from financial loss from credit card fraud, the system relies heavily upon them to be embarrassed by it.  At least on court has agreed to hear evidence as to whether or not consumers as a class are otherwise damaged when their card numbers are leaked to the black market.

All this is by way of saying that as long as anyone accepts credit card numbers in the clear, we will be vulnerable to their fraudulent use. There are now alternatives and we need to promote them, not simply tolerate them. Think numberless, card-less, and contact-less.

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