Security Experts:

PoS Security Challenges in the Spotlight at Upcoming Black Hat Conference

It seems to be in the news more and more: hackers penetrating point-of-sale (PoS) terminals at major retailers and making off with credit and debit card information.

At the upcoming Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas, Lucas Zaichkowsky, enterprise defense architect at AccessData, plans to spotlight the challenges around protecting the PoS architecture and discuss how businesses big and small can bolster their defenses.

"The incentive behind making this talk… is there's a big disconnect between the information security professionals out there and the understanding of point-of-sale systems and electronic payment processing and how all that works," he told SecurityWeek.

"[There are] basically two kinds of camps," he said. "You have small business and those attackers that focus on them specifically, and they have a separate methodology that’s very automated and more opportunistic in nature. They are not going to put a lot of time after going after each individual small merchant; there's so many out there they just got to find the low-hanging fruit."

The attackers that go after the larger companies however tend to put a lot of time and effort into "mapping them out, doing reconnaissance [and] breaking through their systems," explained Zaichkowsky.

"So for the small guys," he said, "it's more about don’t be the low-hanging fruit…whereas with the larger guys it’s a whole different ballgame and they basically got to deal with espionage-level defenses - really, really intense security."

One of the challenges for small businesses is they are serviced by PoS dealers that may not understand security, he added. As a result, when they set up the point-of-sale system and the network environment they introduce weaknesses for example when setting up remote access for support purposes.

"The problem is sometimes those setups are insecure, and hackers just randomly scanning the Internet will find those and break right in pretty easily a lot of the times," he said." So that's how most of those small business breaches happen."

As part of his presentation, he plans to demonstrate what sensitive data is passed in the clear by both magnetic stripe and EMV chip readers, and trace the data's movement through the electronic payment infrastructure. He also plans to discuss EMV cards, which are often touted as a solution to the challenges around PoS security today.

"If you talk to anyone that actually understands EMV and payment processing, it's like a really sore subject because that's a really big myth," he said. "EMV is not safe entirely; it has some things that it does better and some things that it doesn't."

The intent of EMV was to make it so attackers couldn't clone that chip if they were sniffing, he said. However, if they get card number and expiration date for example, criminals may still be able to commit fraud in the form of "card not present" transactions such as online purchases or buying items over the phone.

"(EMV) does help, but it's not this silver bullet that people make it out to be," he said. 

Zaichkowsky's presentation is scheduled for Aug. 6.

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