Cybercrime bust highlights PIN terminal insecurity

Clear and present danger

APACS said that it was unlikely that cardholders would be able to detect hacked terminals.

Preliminary investigation suggests the attack uncovered today relied on exploiting vulnerabilities in older PIN pads. Retailers should be wary of anybody who claims to be a service engineer for terminals as well as carrying out normal due-diligence checks on staff. Police intelligence units are sharing data with retailers and banks. "Retailers should take guidance from banks and, where possible, install the latest up to date models PIN entry devices," the APACS spokeswoman advised.

"You can never make devices tamper-proof - that's an absolute - but you can make them tamper-resistant. We welcome the research Cambridge has carried out in this area," she added.

Net security firm PrevX has spotted threads on an underground forum that suggest expertise on defeating anti-tampering protection on older PIN entry devices is readily available.

One thread, posted in early July, is from someone in the UK asking for information on how to skim Ingenico and Dione Chip-and-PIN machines, followed by a response from someone claiming to offer skimmers a tutorial on how to compromise these devices.

"This Russian guy was offering know-how on how to bypass anti-tampering protection, including schematics and a specialist bluetooth transmitter and receiver for $4,000," explained Jacques Erasmus, director of research at Prevx. "It wasn't a particularly difficult hack and just involves soldering in a few wires to hook up a bluetooth transmitter, which is used to download data from compromised devices onto a laptop running custom software."

El Reg obtained a copy of the forum post which, with PrexV's permission, it has forwarded to APACS. The thread suggests the hack is based on tapping into an unencrypted communication channel on PIN entry devices, exactly the same threat that Cambridge researchers warned about nine months ago.

Harvesting card data and PINs through fake terminals is very hard to prevent, the Cambridge researchers argue. Countermeasures should involve making sure suspicious changes are detected by back-end systems in banks.

"Payment equipment should have been properly tamper-proofed and designed such that swapping PEDs is made very difficult. This can be done by cryptographically coupling the PED and terminal such that back-end systems can detect that an unauthorized PED has been plugged in. Also, it would have been prudent to include a mechanism to detect that a PED has been unplugged from the terminal to raise an alert when it does," Saar explained.

"These are problems that must be solved by the banking industry, as cardholders can do very little against these types of fraud, other than examining their banking statements and reporting unauthorized transactions promptly," he added. ®

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