Mar 18 2008
A grocery store chain of about 1500 stores, Hannaford Brothers and Sweetbay, reported on February 27th that they’d been compromised and 4.2 million credit card and debit card numbers had been stolen. While the details in the InfoWorld article are scarce, one interesting factor of this compromise is that the card data was stolen in the authorization phase of the process. This means the attackers either compromised a border system responsible for the authorization or they compromised the network itself and were able to capture authorization traffic directly. These are the only two places credit card data should be appearing unencrypted.
There has been some identity theft associated with this compromise, but here’s the silver lining: Hannaford does not associate card numbers and expiration dates with the cardholder names and addresses. This in a day when your local grocery store offers you a discount if you’ll just enter your phone number at the PIN pad so they can track every single purchase you make and send you a personalized weekly ad. Most stores would have had card numbers, your home address, the names of all of your relations and possibly the name your teacher in first grade. Well, maybe not the last one, but they would have a record of every embarrassing purchase you’ve ever made. The downside to this lack of association between card numbers and cardholder names is that they have no way of knowing who should be contacted in the breach. I’m not sure if that will absolve them of having to contact anyone or make it necessary for them to contact all of their customers. They probably haven’t figured that one out yet either.
I’m glad to hear that at least one company has disassociated the data in this way, making it harder on the attackers. I can only assume that this is because the chain is owned by a Belgium company; the European laws concerning privacy and the data collected on customers is much stricter than anything we have in the US. What I’ve chosen to view as a bit of forward thinking by an American grocery chain may be nothing more than an attempt meet with European Union laws. In either case, it’s to the benefit of Hannaford Brothers’ and Sweetbay’s customers.