If you’ve been following the news from the Department of Justice about the 11 people charged in an international identity theft ring, you may be feeling a little sick to your stomach about now. Well, take a Tums, because the news only gets worse.
It looks like they’ve found away to use your super-secret PIN.
When you swipe your debit card at the cash register and enter your personal identification number, the data is encrypted into a long string of text that looks like meaningless gobbledygook called a PIN block. If, however, identity thieves gained access to the encryption key that translates that gobbledygook into a PIN again, they would have gained what’s being called “the holy grail” of card theft.
It seems these guys have done just that, and profited from it over a five-year period.
There have been a number of cases in the past few years that indicated criminals had achieved this pinnacle of pilfering.
- 2004: Thousands of PIN blocks were downloaded from the wireless system of a Florida Office Max store.
2006: Citibank customers complained of fraudulent “phantom withdrawals” of $1,500 or more from overseas ATMs. Along with Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual all issued new cards. There was speculation then that someone had broken the code and was using stolen and decrypted PINs to commit ID theft.
2008: A hacker has been arrested and is in custody after breaching the Citibank server that processed transactions for 7-11 convenience stores. In just one month he was able to steal $750,000 from their automated teller machines.
A British security researcher has been saying for years that the spate of “phantom withdrawals” made from accounts in British banks could be traced to a weakness in PIN encryption software. In fact, he talked so openly about the vulnerability that a British court slapped a gag order on him to shut him up.
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