5 On Your Side

Store data breaches renew calls for better security

Posted January 15
Updated January 16

Massive data breaches exposed the credit card information of tens of millions of shoppers – and some technology experts say the incidents call for an upgrade to U.S. retailers’ security standards.

The breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus and other retailers might not have happened if U.S. credit card customers were as protected as those in some parts of Europe, where credit card customers use PIN numbers each time they make a purchase, said Yahoo technology columnist David Pogue.

“You don’t sign your name, which provides no security at all,” Pogue said.

But this security boost is causing retail roadblocks in some countries. Americans are already finding they can’t use their credit cards in some European businesses, while China plans to phase out regular credit cards in the next year.

Pogue said the U.S. should ramp up credit card security, though he said a change would be costly.

"It's an expensive changeover because it's slow, because every little retailer and restaurant would have to change over,” Pogue said. “But we should, because it would nearly put an end to this kind of problem.”

The hackers behind the attacks – called “hack-tivists” – wanted to prove the system could be infiltrated, Pogue said. But unlike cyber-attackers, these hackers may have had inside help, he said.

Most “hack-tivists” are Eastern European teenagers who want to “bring down the man,” Pogue said.

Data was collected at the point of sale, when shoppers made their purchases, he said. The stolen information was later sold on the black market.

Although shoppers whose information was stolen are not responsible for fraudulent purchases, customers should keep a close eye on their credit card statements to check for unusual activity. Target is offering free yearlong credit monitoring through credit reporting agency Experian, with sign-ups ending April 30.

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