Security Experts:

Breach at Fast Food Chain Sonic Could Impact Millions: Report

Sonic Drive-In, a fast food restaurant chain with more than 3,500 locations across the United States, has apparently suffered a data breach that may have resulted in the theft of millions of payment cards.

The company confirmed to SecurityWeek that it has launched an investigation, but it has not provided any information on the possible number of affected restaurants and customers.

“Our credit card processor informed us last week of unusual activity regarding credit cards used at SONIC,” Sonic said in an emailed statement. “The security of our guests’ information is very important to SONIC. We are working to understand the nature and scope of this issue, as we know how important this is to our guests. We immediately engaged third-party forensic experts and law enforcement when we heard from our processor. While law enforcement limits the information we can share, we will communicate additional information as we are able.”

Security blogger Brian Krebs reported on Tuesday that his sources in the financial industry had noticed a pattern of fraudulent transactions involving cards used at Sonic.

According to Krebs, a cybercrime marketplace specializing in payment cards, called “Joker’s Stash,” is selling a batch of 5 million cards, at least some of which appear to come from Sonic. The investigative journalist pointed out that the 5 million records could be originating from multiple companies whose systems have been breached by the same cybercrime group.

Cybercriminals typically rely on point-of-sale (PoS) malware to steal payment card data from merchants. The stolen data can be used to physically clone the cards, which can then be used to purchase high-value items that can be turned into a profit.

The credit and debit card data offered on Joker’s Stash is sold for $25-$50 and is advertised as “100% fresh.” This suggests that the cards were obtained recently and issuers did not get a chance to cancel them.

The cards are indexed based on city, state and ZIP code, allowing fraudsters to acquire only ones from their area, making it less likely to trigger any alarms when the cards are used to make fraudulent purchases.

“Will customer loyalty be shaken? If the past as with the Wendy’s breach is prologue, then the answer is a qualified maybe, and if so, then only slightly. However, this - coupled with the tsunami of recent breaches - might just be the game changers that lead US Federal authorities to better protect the data collection, processing and storage of customer data,” said Robert W. Capps, VP of Business Development at NuData Security.

“Like Wendy’s, Target and an alarming number of other major data breaches, the Sonic breach is bound to be a painful reminder that personal data is an irresistible target, no matter how diligent any company’s efforts are in data protection,” Capps added. “Until PII data is rendered worthless by advanced authentication such as passive biometrics, consumers will continue to suffer the consequences of industry and legislative inaction.”

The list of major restaurant chains that informed customers of a payment card breach in the past year includes Wendy’s, Cicis, Arby’s, Chipotle, Shoney’s, and Noodles & Company.

Related: Over 200 Brooks Brothers Stores Hit by Payment Card Breach

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Eduard Kovacs is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.