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Millions of PINs hacked from Target

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ATLANTA -- Target said Friday 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 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 Friday. "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 Friday 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 several retailers. 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 says shoppers should use their signature to approve transactions because it is safer. Still, she said Target did "as much as could be reasonably expected" in this case.

"It's a leaky system to begin with," she said.

Minneapolis-based Target Corp. said it is still in the early stages of investigating the breach. It has been working with the Secret Service and the Department of Justice.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 B9

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