Target: Customers’ PINs were stolen
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2013 file photo, a passer-by walks near an entrance to a Target retail store in Watertown, Mass. Target on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 said that customers' encrypted PIN data was removed during the data breach that occurred earlier this month. But the company says it believes the PIN numbers are still safe because the information was strongly encrypted. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Target said yesterday that debit card PINs were among the financial information stolen from millions of customers who shopped at the retailer earlier this month.
The company said the stolen personal identification numbers, which customers type into keypads to make secure transactions, were encrypted and that this strongly reduces risk to customers. In addition to the encrypted PINs, customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip on back of the cards were stolen from about 40 million credit and debit cards used at Target stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.
Security experts say it’s the second-largest theft of card accounts in U.S. history, surpassed only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos.
“We remain confident that PIN numbers are safe and secure,” spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in an emailed statement yesterday. “The PIN information was fully encrypted at the keypad, remained encrypted within our system, and remained encrypted when it was removed from our systems.”
However, Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan said yesterday that the PIN numbers for the affected cards are vulnerable and people should change their codes since such data has been decrypted, or unlocked, before. In 2009 computer hacker Albert Gonzalez pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges after masterminding debit and credit card breaches in 2005 that targeted retailers such as T.J. Maxx, Barnes & Noble and OfficeMax. Gonzalez’s group was able to unlock encrypted data. Litan said changes have been made since then to make decrypting more difficult but “nothing is infallible.”
“It’s not impossible, not unprecedented (and) has been done before,” she said.
Besides changing your PIN, Litan said shoppers should instead opt to use their signature to approve transactions because it is safer.