The theft of customer records from 40 million Target shoppers is another warning that we need better security for credit and debit cards. That security already exists in the form of microchip cards, which are widely used in Europe but face resistance from American stores and credit card companies.
This new breed of thieves struck just before Christmas, creating financial hardship for millions and a public relations disaster for Target. Target said that hackers stole names, credit or debit card numbers, expiration dates and digital security codes for 40 million customers who had shopped in its stores from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15.
A similar theft occurred six years ago at T.J. Maxx, resulting in data stolen from at least 45.7 million customers. In the largest such breach on record, hackers stole 130 million credit card numbers from card processor Heartland Payment Systems in 2009.
The bold thefts serve as a reminder to America’s shoppers to check their credit and debit statements on a regular basis.
The thefts also brought to the forefront weaknesses in the way payment information travels between retailers and banks. The black market for stolen credit card numbers is lucrative, some cards selling for a quarter and others as much as $45 each. Cyber thieves are increasingly targeting Americans because security is better in most of the rest of the world.
There’s obviously big money to be made in cyber theft, and criminals have the convenience of not needing to use a gun and mask. In fact, many victims don’t even know they are victims until long after the fact.
Target’s image has been damaged, along with its bottom line as shoppers took their business elsewhere.
But the chain won’t be the last to be hit by hackers as long as there are security flaws to be exploited.
American credit card issuers should consider adopting smart-chip technology, which allows for greater encryption. More than 80 countries around the world use chip technology and yet less than 1 percent of credit cards in the United States have chips.
People are not going to stop using credit and debit cards. Fewer people are carrying cash for purchases, instead taking advantage of reward points and the convenience of using the cards.
Credit card companies and retailers in America need to step up the switch to smart cards.