Wednesday, April 15, 2009

PIN Crackers Nab Holy Grail of Bank Card Security

Kim Zetter writes on Threat Level:

Hackers have crossed into new frontiers by devising sophisticated ways to steal large amounts of personal identification numbers, or PINs, protecting credit and debit cards, says an investigator. The attacks involve both unencrypted PINs and encrypted PINs that attackers have found a way to crack, according to the investigator behind a new report looking at the data breaches.

The attacks, says Bryan Sartin, director of investigative response for Verizon Business, are behind some of the millions of dollars in fraudulent ATM withdrawals that have occurred around the United States.

"We're seeing entirely new attacks that a year ago were thought to be only academically possible," says Sartin. Verizon Business released a report [.pdf] Wednesday that examines trends in security breaches. "What we see now is people going right to the source ... and stealing the encrypted PIN blocks and using complex ways to un-encrypt the PIN blocks."

The revelation is an indictment of one of the backbone security measures of U.S. consumer banking: PIN codes. In years past, attackers were forced to obtain PINs piecemeal through phishing attacks, or the use of skimmers and cameras installed on ATM and gas station card readers. Barring these techniques, it was believed that once a PIN was typed on a keypad and encrypted, it would traverse bank processing networks with complete safety, until it was decrypted and authenticated by a financial institution on the other side.

But the new PIN-hacking techniques belie this theory, and threaten to destabilize the banking-system transaction process.

More here.


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