Target (TGT) may be in hot seat because of the recent data breach of more than 100 million of its customers, but it has plenty of company when it comes to using outdated technology that weakens security—especially among retailers in the U.S.
Six years ago, a similar type breach happened to 90 million T.J. Maxx customers, and 130 million card numbers were stolen—the largest in history—from Heartland Payment Systems in 2009.
The common denominator among all of the above breaches is the continued use of credit and debit cards with magnetic strips. Europe and 80 other countries worldwide upgraded to 21st-century EMV chip cards years ago.
However, stubborn retailers in the US opt to stick with old school magnetic-stripe technology—do, at least in part, to the costs of switching. But it could cost you and me a lot more.
The benefits of EMV cards
Here are the differences: Magnetic strips allow hackers to extract credit card numbers and expiration dates and make counterfeit cards. EMV cards, on the other hand, make it much more difficult because information is embedded inside a chip.
Plus, unlike the cards we’re using now that use the same unencrypted PIN numbers for each transaction, EMV cards generate a unique security code each time they’re used. So, a hacker can steal it, but won’t be able to use it. Another difference is that you swipe a card with a magnetic strip, but EMV cards enter a terminal, at which point you enter a PIN or sign your name.
At least there is some motivation to adopting the new practice. If retailers don’t employ the EMV technology by October 2015, the responsibility for fraudulent transactions will shift to the least-security party—the stores themselves. In the meantime, hackers have plenty of opportunity to become repeat offenders.
This latest exploitation against Target, however, has a lot of consumers and banks—who often end up footing the bill—riled up. I’d expect for some government agency to come along and light a fire under the retail industry.
The technology is out there, available and needed more than ever. Here are three companies more than willing to help.