Christmas time is here! For hackers, anyway



Digital thievery is, unfortunately, a commonplace happening. As those who possess valuable information rely more and more on the internet, they become a more attractive target. Those who use credit and debit cards, especially online, accept the risk that their information may be stolen by those with greater technological wiles than themselves. It is practically expected that credit cards come with identity theft protection of some sort.

It is, however, the responsibility of those who have access to sensitive information, such as the personal information contained on credit/debit cards, to safeguard that information to the best of their ability. Of course, those who are foiled by one countermeasure will keep trying until they get what they are trying to take for their own. Sometimes the best effort by retailers to protect the payment information of their customers is simply not good enough.

Target Corporation is the latest victim of hackers stealing customer information from debit cards. Approximately 40 million credit and debit cards used between November 27 and December 15 at Target stores had information stolen, including names, credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates, the security code on the back of the card, and, perhaps worst of all, personal identification numbers (PINs). While the PINs were encrypted in Target’s systems, there still remains a great risk that the hackers could crack the code and access customers’ PINs.

Target has been mum on how exactly the information was stolen, but it seems to have to do with the magnetic strip that is a mainstay on every credit and debit card in the U.S. Far from being hyper-secure, the magnetic information in the strip is easily stolen by people sitting with scanners on a park bench, but it is unclear how that weakness affected a digital database. Nevertheless, there is an increased push by credit card companies to remove the magnetic strips and replace them with more secure chips inside the card.

Target has excelled, however, in responding to the breach. They issued an apology and gave customers 10% off just about everything in their stores the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas. In one respect, the data breach could not have happened at a better time—what better way to say sorry and increase Christmas sales at the same time than giving your customers 10% off?

Still, Target has received no small amount of anger and resentment from their (in some cases previous) customers about the data breach. Companies must continually evaluate the effectiveness of their systems, expensive though they may be. There is nothing more valuable to a firm than the trust of their customers.