Security Experts:

Hackers Compromise Point-of-Sale Systems at Grocery Giants Supervalu, Albertson's

Hackers Breach Payment Card Processing Systems of Supermarket Chains Supervalu and Albertson’s 

Supermarket chains Supervalu and Albertsons told customers on Thursday that information associated with their payment cards might have been stolen after hackers broke into systems that process credit and debit card transactions for many of their retail food and liquor stores.

Minnesota-based Supervalu said an incident affected 180 Supervalu stores and stand-alone liquor stores operating under the Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Shop ’n Save and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy brands. Additionally, 29 franchised Cub Foods stores and stand-alone liquor stores were affected.

According to the company, the intruders managed to gain access to account numbers and, in some cases, expiration dates, other numerical information and/or cardholder names from payment cards used at some point-of-sale (PoS) systems.

A related data breach also affected Albertson's, Acme, Jewel-Osco and Shaw's stores operated by AB Acquisition, which Supervalu sold to an investor group in March 2013. Supervalu is providing IT services to the operator as part of a transition agreement.

Supervalu said that it believes any losses incurred by Albertson’s as a result of the breach would not be Supervalu’s responsibility.    

The breach was detected by Supervalu's internal team, the company's president and CEO Sam Duncan said in a statement.

The retailer believes that only customers who have used their cards between June 22, 2014 and July 17, 2014 at one of the 209 affected locations are impacted.

Supervalu says the intrusion has been contained and is confident that customers can safely use their payment cards to make purchases.

"The Company currently has no reason to believe that additional information beyond that described above may have been stolen by the intruder. However, given the continuing nature of the investigation, it is possible that time frames, locations and/or at-risk data in addition to those described above will be identified in the future," Supervalu said.

With a network of 3,320 stores and annual sales of roughly $17 billion, the Minnesota-based company is one of the largest grocery wholesalers and retailers in the United States. It is also the latest in a long series of U.S. retailers that suffered serious data breaches over the past months. The list includes Target, Michaels Stores and Neiman Marcus.

"By now, every retailer is aware of the risks of malware in the POS, the impact, and the simple fact being compliant to PCI doesn’t equate to mitigating advanced threats that no doubt again stole the gold in this case. The only way to neutralize this risk is to avoid any sensitive data passing in and through the vulnerable POS or retail IT," Mark Bower, VP product management and solutions architecture at Voltage Security, told SecurityWeek.

"Hundreds of thousands of merchants already do this today with proven approaches using the latest innovations in data-centric security and are able to brush off such attacks like water off a duck’s back. These risks are totally avoidable – and at a fraction of the cost of the fallout  from dealing with the consequences."

*Additional reporting by Mike Lennon

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) 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.