The recent attack on Target stores was second-largest illegal harvest of credit card numbers in history. The number one spot belongs to the hacking of TJ Maxx back in 2007 where 90 million card numbers were stolen. Target gave up “only” 45 million. The theft occurred over a period of weeks beginning on Black Friday through December 15th.
Here is what likely happened: Modern “point of sale” cash registers” (aka “POS” which reminds me of my father-in-law for some reason) are essentially a computer connected to a cash drawer. The POS’s are connected to the internet and all of them report to company headquarters.
The US Secret Service and Target are not sharing the details of exactly how this happened but the general consensus among the hacker community is that a large, well organized group of individuals--almost certainly with inside help-- hacked into the company’s POS servers and caused them to “push” a malicious software update to all the POS’s in all 1,900 Target stores.
The Russian Mafia deserves at least some of the credit as many of the pilfered card numbers are for
|An actual Russian Mafia member. No, really.|
The rest of the world has moved to cards with computer chips embedded that are much more difficult to counterfeit than magnetic strips. The US is expected to transition to chips in 2015. Between now and then, companies expect a tidal wave of large-scale attacks like this.
So what can you or should you do about this? Not much, really. You are not liable for any losses even if you become a victim but a theft can cause you some inconvenience. If you used Target recently, look over your next statement for small charges. These small charges are used to verify that the card works. After that, big purchases are made. If you see something weird, call someone.