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Could “ATM cash-outs” hit your credit cards?

by Peter Andrew
Could “ATM cash-outs” hit your credit cards?

It recently emerged that, between December 2012 and April 2013, two prepaid-card issuers were victims of a crime Reuters dubbed a “global cyber heist.” Criminals netted during that period a haul of $45 million as gangs in 27 countries around the world used thousands of ATMs to access the cash. Seven American alleged perpetrators have been arrested, but an eighth suspect is believed to have been killed while overseas. All were, according to The Washington Post, living in Yonkers, NY, at the time of the offense, and most were young men.

Credit card companies and insecure technology

The heist was enabled by flaws in the IT security systems used by the prepaid card issuers. One scenario, suggested by PaymentViews, is that hackers sent “spear phishing” emails to key employees in two India-based payment-processing organizations. Once opened, these released malware that provided access to key databases and applications, which, in turn, permitted the gang to withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs.

The key question is: Could hackers achieve similar goals if they were to target American credit card companies?

Your credit cards are low risk

Nothing is 100-percent secure, and few experts are likely to stick their necks out and say the same sort of attacks could never succeed among mainstream American card issuers. But many believe the chances are small for two main reasons:

  1. Prepaid card issuers tend to be more vulnerable than traditional credit card companies.
  2. Payment-processing companies based in India, which has a rapidly emerging and changing economy and IT infrastructure, make easier and so more attractive targets for cyber criminals than American card issuers, which often have more established security protocols.

However, there’s little room for complacency. George Peabody of PaymentViews attended a MasterCard security event held in March, by which time insiders had some knowledge of the heist. He reports that delegates left with a list of ideas and action points for tightening up their systems.

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