Data Security Breaches at Retailers

Security breaches and identity theft are becoming an increasing concern for consumers as hackers continue to target large retailers. Target, Sally Beauty Supply, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Michaels, Dairy Queen and Kmart are among retailers recently hacked. These incidents have resulted in stolen personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, emails, and credit card information. As a result of these breaches, affected consumers are more likely to fall victim to identify theft.

The following is a summary of retailers who recently suffered a data breach. Reports suspect hackers were able to infiltrate these stores by installing malware on their point-of-sale systems. Information was then stolen when credit cards were swiped at the store during checkout. The data stored on the magnetic strip of the credit cards, such as the number and expiration date, was then used to make replicas and sold on the black market.


Target’s security breach occurred late in 2013. Reports concluded that 110 million people were victims of stolen personal information due to the breach. Credit card numbers, names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails were included in the theft.

Sally Beauty Supply

Sally Beauty Supply detected a breach in February of 2014. During this hack, nearly 25,000 customer’s credit card information was stolen, including the 3 digit CVV numbers.

Neiman Marcus

Hackers began infiltrating Neiman Marcus as early as July of 2013, and were not stopped until January of 2014. Neiman Marcus reported that up to 1.2 million credit and debit card users were potentially affected by the security breach.

Home Depot

In September 2014, Home Depot confirmed that they were the latest victims of a data breach. Home Depot began investigating transactions from April of 2014 through September. The scope of the breach is still being verified. At this time, debit PIN numbers are not expected to have been compromised, just credit card numbers. It is highly likely that Home Depot was hacked by the same malware that breached Target’s systems in 2013.

Home Depot has confirmed that brick and mortar stores in the United States and Canada are affected. There is no evidence that the stores in Mexico and transactions through have been affected.

The size of the breach appears to be more than Target’s data breach that occurred late in 2013. Target’s breach cost the company an estimated 148 million dollars. The Home Depot breach is expected to have affected more than Target’s breach, which included at least 40 million credit cards and 70 million other parts of customer data.

Michaels Stores

In January of 2014, Michaels Stores suffered a data breach. The attack occurred between May 2013 and January 2014. Roughly 3 million customers were subject to theft. During the attack, hackers stole credit and debit card numbers, as well as expiration dates. Luckily, PIN numbers and card holder’s names were not suspected to have been compromised.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen released in October of 2014 that they were hit with a security breach. Malware on the registers stole customer’s credit card data from 395 different Dairy Queen Locations. There is no evidence that PIN numbers, social security numbers or email addresses were compromised. However, credit card numbers, expiration dates and customer names were exposed during this breach.


On October 9, 2014, Kmart discovered that they had suffered from a security breach. No personal information such as social security numbers or PIN numbers are suspected to have been stolen. Credit and debit card numbers were the target of this particular breach.

Comparison of Security Breaches

Company Duration
People Affected Info. Stolen
Home Depot April 2014 – Sept. 2014 56 Million Card numbers
Target Nov. 27 – Dec. 2013 110 Million Card numbers, names, addresses, phone numbers and emails
Sally Beauty Supply Feb. – March 2014 25,000 Names, card numbers, and CVVcodes
Neiman Marcus July 2013 – Jan. 2014 1.2 Million Card numbers
Michaels Stores May 2013 – Jan. 2014 3 Million Card numbers
Dairy Queen Aug. 2014 – Sept. 2014 TBD Card numbers, names and expiration dates
Kmart Sept. 2014 – Oct. 2014 TBD Card numbers

How Consumers Can Protect Themselves from Hackers

Leading security experts recommend that consumers take the following steps to help protect themselves:

  • Check your credit card statements online daily. Regularly monitoring your account will minimize damages because fraudulent activity is more quickly identified.
  • If you become nervous or concerned that your information was stolen then get a new card. It is better to be safe than sorry.
  • Use your credit card as opposed to your debit card as much as possible. It is safer to use a credit card because it is not attached to your bank account and offers additional protection.
  • Invest in a credit monitoring service. Many are available for free to affected customers. These services are helpful because they will notify you when there is suspicious activity or if someone is trying to open a credit card in your name.
  • If you notice suspicious activity, call the credit card company immediately. The phone number is usually listed on the back of the card.

The breaches at Target, Sally Beauty Supply, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Michaels, Dairy Queen and Kmart are proof that even large retailers can be vulnerable to hackers. Unfortunately, it is impossible to forecast a data breach at any of your favorite stores. The bottom line is, security breaches will always be a threat. If you follow the steps to protecting yourself then  you can lessen your chances of becoming a victim.

Dexter malware threatens data breaches on point of sale equipment

Security researchers have identified a new malware called Dexter that specifically targets Point of Sale (POS) systems such as cash registers and scanning stations to obtain credit card numbers.  As of December 12, 2012, Dexter had infected systems in 40 different countries with the majority of infected systems residing in North America and the United Kingdom.  The malware infected machines a few months ago, just in time to steal data from many of the holiday shoppers.

Dexter steals credit card data by recording downloaded files from the POS device and retrieving information from memory.  More specifically, it looks for Track 1 or Track 2 data which is read by most POS devices and contains the account holder name, account number and security code for a credit card.  The malware stores the data and sends it in batches every five minutes to the malware operator who can then use it to make false purchases or clone credit cards.

Malware researchers are still trying to determine how Dexter is infecting POS systems but POS owners are not defenseless.  They can protect themselves from the malware by using devices that encrypt the credit card data from the point at which the card is scanned through the processing stage in what is known as Point-to-Point Encryption (P2PE).  P2PE encrypts the data before it is placed in memory and Dexter is currently unable to decrypt the data so P2PE effectively stops Dexter from harvesting credit card numbers on the POS device.

Security and Compliance Synergies with DLP, SIEM, and IAM

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is a technology that keeps an inventory of data on organizational devices, it tracks when that data moves and applies rule sets to prevent data from moving to unauthorized locations such as a thumb drive, cloud server, or an email recipient outside the company. DLP can significantly help organizations understand and control the data that is used, stored, and transmitted and it is seeing increasing use in by internal compliance groups as they try to meet strict regulatory requirements.

Another technology, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), collects and analyzes data in real-time from multiple sources including server logs, network devices, firewalls and intrusion detection systems. It then correlates that information to identify relevant patterns and alert on high priority events or event sequences. SIEM systems retain the data separately from the collection source so it is protected from tampering, deletion, or corruption. They also summarize the data in dashboards for easy reporting and analysis.

The third technology, Identity Access Management (IAM), allows an organization to manage credentials across the enterprise, including over a diverse set of equipment and devices. IAM manages information about users and what they are authorized to access and the actions they are authorized to perform.

The combination of SIEM, DLP, and IAM can improve the security and compliance of a corporation. Taken together SIEM, DLP, and IAM can work so that data flow within an organization is transparent, therefore, affording more control to the business and less ability to misuse that information.

What are SIEM, DLP, and IAM

As stated earlier, DLP is a conscious effort to prevent the loss of data due to undesirable individuals, groups, or circumstances. DLP systems figure out which pieces of information are more important than others, therefore, creating a prioritized list. DLP is a comprehensive set of methodologies and technologies that can look at more information across departments, better than localized isolated searches. SIEM is technology that can take and interpret information coming in from network security devices and server logs allowing greater visibility into the use, transmission, and storage of data. SIEM allows a company to consolidate security information from many different areas so that the organization can better understand and prioritize how to protect its data and IAM allows the logs of activity from heterogeneous devices to be tied to an identity of an individual for better auditing and intelligence.

Protecting the company’s data is a primary responsibility for information security. With increased complexity and interoperability of systems, this task becomes much more challenging, especially on a localized basis. With the help of DLP, the job of protecting information becomes much clearer. Using SIEM in conjunction with DLP and IAM can further ease the task of the information security department in protecting organizational data, preventing breaches and in meeting regulatory requirements by restricting data from being exfiltrated and ensuring that authorized use is monitored and audited.

The correlation between real threats in real time and how and where the most sensitive pieces of information are stored and dealt with falls squarely within the realm of SIEM, DLP, and IAM. Furthermore, allowing a combination of SIEM, DLP, and IAM, a company can see its security in one program, not several, thus making the process more efficient. Efficiency is an essential part of making a good business great. This sentiment can be translated into the world of protecting documents. SIEM can be tuned to focus on where the data is found, thus helping the DLP team protect the information at the source, in transit, and at its destination. In addition, SIEM can refine the way that DLP identifies sensitive information, alerts DLP to new resources, and new threats to organizational information.

Combining these three methods of protection, SIEM, DLP, and IAM, can give the organization more insight on where additional security controls should be placed, and it allows for a faster incident response. This combination of insight and coordination allows for a more efficient strategy against potential threats. DLP can prevent malicious or accidental users from abusing the system by only allowing authorized access to certain accounts, as well as, informing the company when these documents have been retrieved. Simultaneously, SIEM is working to sharpen controls by monitoring the retrieval of the information, thus making the retrieval alerts as streamlined, efficient, and quick as possible. These two devices provide what information security offices need, visibility and control.

Internal Threats

Companies sometimes have information but cannot act on it because it is buried in a server log or a database. For example, in 2008 Verizon Business had breach information on 82% of cases but they were unable to use this information. SIEM, DLP, and IAM could have enabled Verizon to understand better and prevent these breaches.

The reality of the world is employees often change positions. Without proper employee termination procedures and security controls, terminated employees could transfer customer documents or steal intellectual property and other sensitive information. The use of SIEM, DLP, and IAM provides real-time information in data access and can flag inappropriate or out of the norm activity.

External Threats

Take a company that deals with the regular transfer of credit card information and is Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant. PCI-DSS compliance can help protect the organization and mitigate a variety of attacks, but DLP and SIEM can give the organization knowledge on where attacks might be focused. Fingerprinting and other prerequisite external threats can herald the onset of a larger attack, and SIEM, DLP, and IAM would highlight these requirements so that the organization could respond and protect itself and its data.

SIEM, DLP, and IAM in a distributed mobile world

SIEM, DLP, and IAM are particularly valuable to organizations that are increasingly mobile. More and more workers access corporate data from mobile devices, the cloud, or machines connected to a VPN and BYOD is prevalent in many organizations. It is important to tie this activity back to a unique identity and to track patterns across devices and organizational boundaries. Protecting information was already difficult when it was limited to one network and a few select locations. However, that time is well in the past. New facets of current employment widen the gap that information security needs to cover. With the help of DLP, threats can be prioritized according to the importance, and with SIEM the data transfer and storage can be transparent, easing the burden on the information technology and security department in protecting a larger set of assets.

The use of SIEM, DLP, and IAM can significantly enhance the capabilities of information security departments. SIEM allows a company to make the access, transfer, and reception of data within the company more apparent and can further improve DLP initiatives in protecting and controlling data within the organization. The advantage of using SIEM, DLP, and IAM within an individual company streamlines the process of protecting vital information and makes the company more efficient.

This article is sponsored by JURINNOV, a TCDI company specializing in cybersecurity and computer forensic consulting services.

Information Security Compliance: PCI-DSS

PCI-DSS applies to a wide range of corporations and companies that deal with credit card transactions, and it can be a useful tool for other organizations as well.  The PCI-DSS specification was created by credit card companies such as Discover, American Express, Visa, and MasterCard to protect the individual from credit card fraud and identity theft through standardization of security controls surrounding the protection of credit card information.  Similar to ISO standards, PCI-DSS is not a government regulation full of fines for non-compliance.  Rather, the rule thrives under positive reinforcement by allowing companies to demonstrate that they have achieved a level of information assurance suitable to protect customer credit card information.  However, it should be mentioned that there can be fines if an organization has a loss of credit card information and they are not PCI-DSS compliant.

Compliance is recommended for all companies that process, store or transmit credit card data.  Some ask why they should expend the time and resources to become compliant if the process is voluntary.  Firstly, PCI-DSS compliance can give customers more confidence in your ability to protect their data.  Second, a company that is compliant with PCI-DSS will be better equipped to comply with other regulations and standards such as HIPAA, COBIT, or ITIL since many of the requirements overlap. Thirdly, the recommendations in PCI-DSS are reasonable and practical for many companies who take information security seriously, and they can bring significant benefit to the organization’s ability to safeguard systems and data.

What’s required?

The PCI-DSS requirements are comprised of six categories called control objectives.

Control Objectives

PCI-DSS Requirements

Build and Maintain a Secure Network 1. Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data
2. Do not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters
Protect Cardholder Data 3. Protect stored cardholder data
4. Encrypt transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks
Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program 5. Use and regularly update anti-virus software on all systems commonly affected by malware
6. Develop and maintain secure systems and applications
Implement Strong Access Control Measures 7. Restrict access to cardholder data by business need-to-know
8. Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access
9. Restrict physical access to cardholder data
Regularly Monitor and Test Networks 10. Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data
11. Regularly test security systems and processes
Maintain an Information Security Policy 12. Maintain a policy that addresses information security

Excerpt from the PCI-DSS 1.2 standard

How does one become certified?

For many companies, the compliance process is a somewhat ambiguous and what little is known of the process is often representative of the outliers rather than the norm.  Compliance seminars and information security speakers often talk of the penalties for non-compliance or the immense costs of compliance initiatives, 111111111111111111111111111111and this can make the activity seem quite frightening.  However, the PCI-DSS process is relatively straight-forward.

After implementing controls to satisfy the objectives above, a company then must complete periodical reports outlining their compliance with PCI-DSS.  Small businesses can complete a self-assessment and then pass a vulnerability scan performed by an approved scanning vendor.  Larger companies go through an audit by qualified security assessors.  An annual review is required to maintain your PCI-DSS standing.

Where to next?

This entry regarding PCI-DSS covered who needs to comply with it, what is required, and how the process works.  As you can see, the process is not as complicated as some believe.  Organizations can improve the security of handling credit card information and provide an increased level of assurance to customers that their credit card information is being protected.

Information Security Compliance: Which regulations relate to me?

Information security is often feared as an amorphous issue that only the IT department has to deal with. The reality is that companies need to be concerned with complying with information security from top to bottom. Regulations are in place that can help a company improve information security while non-compliance can result in severe fines. It may be difficult for a company to understand which laws apply and which ones do not because many different sets of laws can apply to one company and not another.

Many major companies within the United States are subject to some security regulation.  Regulations that contain information security requirements are intended to improve the information security level of organizations within that industry, and many organizations would welcome such information.  The difficulty comes in determining which regulations apply and in interpreting the requirements of the regulation.  The regulations are not written in a way that is easily understood by the average business person so many times a security professional is needed to understand the requirements and how to implement them.  Professionals have experience implementing systems, policies, and procedures to satisfy the requirements of the regulation and enhance the security of your organization and some have obtained credentials such as the HISP (Holistic Information Security Practitioner) that signify their understanding of the regulations.  Often the requirements are given in general terms leaving the company to determine how to best satisfy the requirements.

First, companies need to assess which of the laws and acts apply to them. Then they need to organize their information security to address the boundaries put in place by the acts. This requires a set plan that outlines a consistent and effective way of alerting and dealing with threats.

But how do we assess which laws apply to which company

Talking about the particular bills and which companies they apply to is slightly vague. Therefore, take for example your local hospital. This local hospital is publicly traded and not a federal agency. Therefore, it is not subject to the FISMA bill. However, since the company deals with healthcare patients, it is subject to HIPAA. Now it must look carefully at what sort of protections it must offer patients and place safeguards in affect to prevent a breach of security. On the ground level, it cannot give away patient information without the express consent of the patient. From a more technological perspective, the hospital cannot allow any system that handles patient information to be compromised.  This means that controls need to be in place for those systems and the equipment that allows access to the systems. Policies and procedures need to be in place to govern the activities of persons who interact with the systems and training need to take place so that users of the systems perform their duties properly and do not intentionally or unintentionally misuse the system.

Some companies may have to comply with multiple regulations.  In such cases, it is best to outline all the regulations that impact the company first and then a determination can be made for which security controls to implement that satisfy the requirements of all the regulations they need to comply with.  This process can reduce the amount of money the organization spends on compliance efforts because it reduces duplication of effort and the likelihood that competing systems would be put in place to satisfy the same regulatory requirement.

This table shows the different regulations and which corporations would be subject to the scope of the act.



What it regulates

Company affected

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) This act is a two-part bill

Title I: protects the health care of people who are transitioning between jobs or are laid off.

Title II: meant to simplify the healthcare process by shifting to electronic data. Also, it protects the privacy of individual patients.

The sort of company affected by this bill is any company or office that deals with healthcare. That includes but is not limited to doctor’s offices, insurance companies, and employers.
Sarbanes-Oxley Act This act requires companies to maintain financial records for seven years. It was implemented to prevent another Enron scandal. U.S. public company boards, Management and public accounting firms
Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) This act recognized the information security as matters of national security. Thus, it mandates that all federal agencies develop a method of protecting the information systems. All Federal agencies fall under the range of this bill.
Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) This act allowed insurance companies, commercial banks, and investment banks to be within the same company. As for security, it mandates that companies secure the private information of clients and customers This Act defines “financial institutions” as: “…companies that offer financial products or services to individuals, like loans, financial or investment advice, or insurance.”
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Section 3.1 of the Act is concerned with protecting student educational records. Any postsecondary institution including universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, technical schools, and vocational schools.
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS)  A set of 12 regulations designed to reduce fraud and protect customer credit card information.  Companies are handling credit card information.

There is an abundance of laws and bills on the books designed to protect information. However, it is not always clear to the average business decision maker which regulations apply to their company. That is where a security professional can significantly help a business make sense of such an area that grows more complex with each new regulation.  Compliance is critical, and it begins by understanding which regulations affect your company and then outlining the steps to bring you into compliance.

Reducing privacy and compliance risk with data minimization

Companies collect millions of gigabytes of information, all of which has to be stored, maintained, and secured. There is a general fear of removing data lest it be needed some day but this practice is quickly becoming a problem that creates privacy and compliance risk. Some call it “data hoarding” and I am here to help you clean your closet of unnecessary bits and bytes.

The news is full of examples of companies losing data. These companies incur significant cost to shore up their information security and their reputations. In a study by the Ponemon Institute, the estimated cost per record for a data breach in 2009 was $204. Based on this, losing 100,000 records would cost a company over twenty million dollars. It is no wonder that companies are concerned. Those that are not in the news are spending a great deal of money to protect the information they collect.

So why are we collecting this information in the first place? Like abstinence campaigns, the best way to avoid a data breach is to not store the data in the first place. This is where data minimization steps in to reduce such risk. As part of the data minimization effort, organizations need to ask themselves three questions:

  1. Do I really need to keep this data?
  2. Would a part of the data be as useful as the whole for my purposes?
  3. Could less sensitive data be used in place of this data?