POS Security: Experts Crack Credit Defenses, Offer Tips to Stay Safe

August 9, 2016 @ 1:30 PM
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2 min read

Point-of-sale (POS) systems remain high-priority targets for cybercriminals, since getting their hands on Track 2 data can yield steady revenue streams from Dark Web sales of fraudulent credit cards.

As noted by SC Magazine, two security researchers from NCR Corporation recently demonstrated the ongoing risk presented by insecure terminals and even new EMV chip-and-PIN cards. Thankfully, they also offered solid tips on keeping credit card data safe. Here’s the latest on POS security.

Cracking POS Security

According to Threatpost, researchers Nir Valtman and Patrick Watson gave Black Hat attendees a detailed look at cracking PIN pad data and grabbing EMV details.

Their first demonstration used Raspberry Pi to create a passive man-in-the-middle (MitM) compromise, which was able to grab Track 2 data packets in real time using a PIN pad terminal running outdated production software. The pair wouldn’t name the manufacturer but noted that while they asked the company to implement TLS protections, they were told the hardware was too old.

Valtman and Watson then went on to crack EMV security, demonstrating that they could transform “garbled” data into readable bits such as service code expiration and discretionary details, which are telltale signs that the card is chip-and-PIN.

They also pointed out the increasing trend of attackers working offline. According to Watson, “you can write the data to a magstripe card and if you’re offline, no one’s the wiser.”

Telltale Signs

The NCR team did offer some advice to help users and companies stay safe. For example, they warned that users should be wary of any POS machine that asks them to enter their PIN more than once — this is a telltale cybercriminal trick. Requests for other strange info, such as Social Security numbers, or the presence of strange welcoming messages can indicate that a terminal is compromised.

It’s also a good idea for merchants to leverage point-to-point encryption (P2PE) as a way to secure data in transit. Failing that, TLS or SSLv3 are reasonable alternatives.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that while PCI standards mandate a number of key security features, they leave out the need for encryption over a local area network (LAN), which makes it possible for cybercriminals to carry out MitM attacks.

The Race Is On

As noted by Computerworld, there’s a race on right now as attackers look to compromise magstripe cards before the switch to EMV is complete and the rise of NFC payments makes them entirely mainstream. The TreasureHunt malware, for example, is designed to steal payment card data from a computer’s memory and is commonly installed by brute-forcing passwords or using previously stolen credentials.

According to Hotel Managment, meanwhile, hardware-based attacks are also getting an upgrade. Last year, security researcher Samy Kamkar developed a tool called MagSpoof, which could wirelessly read magstripes off hotel door keys or payment cards. Security researcher Weston Hecker subsequently added $6 worth of technology, which made it possible for the same hardware to discover and write a keycode from across hotel property.

Easy Targets

The big worry for POS security: With many Americans still not comfortable using EMV, they’re both delaying adoption at home as long as possible and using magstripes whenever they’re traveling abroad. In other words, they’re easy targets for motivated attackers leveraging old POS systems, poor transit encryption and new cybercrime hardware.

POS protection is already a high-priority issue for users and retailers alike. With both magstripe and EMV cards at risk, companies need to take every precaution possible to protect consumer data. “Good enough” doesn’t cut it in a world where MitM attacks nab magstripes for offline writing, EMV cards give up their data with relative ease and magnetic scanners can pluck key credit info from thin air.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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