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Electronic bugs

Criminals planted electronic bugs in Barnes & Noble credit card readers; elaborate scam may have swiped thousands of cards

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: electronic bugs, credit card theft, retailers

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(NaturalNews) Advances in financial technology have become a double-edged sword in the 21st century, as it is being used more and more often against the very consumers it was developed to serve.

The latest example originates from major bookseller Barnes & Noble, which warned its customers recently to check their credit and debit card statements after finding out that criminals tampered with the chain's card readers in 63 stores around the country, according to CBS New York.

The report said that only one device in each store was tampered with, which affects fewer than one percent of all card readers in Barnes & Noble stores, according to a company news release.

After discovering the breach, the company says it disconnected all of the devices at its nearly 700 stores. Company officials discovered the tampering Sept. 14. It wasn't clear how many customers were affected.

The company said the FBI asked the chain not to disclose the system breach last month over fears that doing so would compromise the agency's investigation, according to CBS. A separate report by Reuters said the bookseller received so-called "safe harbor" letters from federal prosecutors - letters that "are used infrequently to allow law enforcement agencies to continue investigations secretly," the newswire service said.

'We live in an age of major information release'

Apparently, criminals planted bugs in the devices in order to steal customers' credit card and PIN numbers, Barnes & Noble said, adding that the tampering was a "sophisticated criminal effort."

Barnes & Noble, the nation's biggest bookseller, is currently working with federal law enforcement authorities, as well as banks, payment card brands and issuers, to figure out which customer accounts may have been compromised.

Customers are becoming increasingly leery of the technology. One female customer who was not named told WCBS, the New York City affiliate, that "we live in an age of a major information release and I don't think that any of us are protected against it."

"Credit card companies make an enormous amount of money from people switching over to computerized money and it's their responsibility to figure out how to do it safely but they're so profit-driven that they short cut," she said.

Incredibly, Barnes & Noble insisted its customer database is secure.

But the fact is that no customer databases are secure. The Barnes & Noble hack attack is just "the latest reminder of how crooks can steal consumers' financial information," the Chicago Tribune reported.

Just last year, the paper said, a number of customers of Michaels craft stores in the Chicago area said they also had money stolen from their bank accounts after hacking thieves swiped their debit card information.

Other technologies make consumers vulnerable as well. Consider the emerging use of cell phones as payment devices; while they are convenient, "mobile wallet" technology brings its own unique security concerns, especially given the fact that this part of the technology industry is in its infancy.

Hacker thieves looking for vulnerable targets

In all, nearly half the country's consumers - an astounding 42 percent - reported experiencing credit card fraud in the past five years, up from 32 percent in 2010, according to an October survey conducted by ACI Worldwide, a firm that supplies payment systems, and Aite Group, an advisory and research company.

The big retailers are increasing efforts to stave off hacker-thieves; but as they have, credit card fraudsters have begun targeting individual retail locations, which they believe are softer targets, Dan Glennon, senior vice president of marketing and strategy at Cybera Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based firm that sells point-of-sale security solutions to retailers, told the Tribune.

Single locations, as well as smaller retailers in general, are considered to be more vulnerable to hacking because thieves see them as less likely to have sophisticated anti-hacking security systems in place.

Larger retailers tend to have better security or a tech person on site who tracks and manages security profiles, said Glennon.

Vulnerability is the key, say cyber security analysts, and those who are vulnerable will continue to be hit.





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