Target’s Cyber Security Staff Raised Concerns in Months Before Breach
Target Corp.’s computer security staff raised concerns about vulnerabilities in the retailer’s payment card system at least two months before hackers stole 40 million credit and debit card numbers from its servers, people familiar with the matter said.
At least one analyst at the Minneapolis-based retailer wanted to do a more thorough security review of its payment system, a request that at least initially was brushed off, the people said. The move followed memos distributed last spring and summer by the federal government and private research firms on the emergence of new types of malicious computer code targeting payment terminals, a former employee said.
The suggested review also came as Target was updating those payment terminals, a process that can open security risks because analysts would have had less time to find holes in the new system, the employee said. It also came at a difficult time—ahead of the carefully planned and highly competitive Black Friday weekend that would kick off the holiday shopping period.
It wasn’t clear whether Target did the requested review before the attack that ran between Nov. 27 and Dec. 18. The nature of the feared security holes wasn’t immediately clear, either, or whether they allowed the hackers to penetrate the system.
The sheer volume of warnings that retailers receive makes it hard to know which to take seriously. Target has an extensive cyber security intelligence team, which sees numerous threats each week and could prioritize only so many issues at its monthly steering committee meetings, the former employee said.
Target declined to confirm or comment on the warning.
The breach has caused headaches for Target customers who have dealt with fraudulent charges and have had millions of credit and debit cards replaced by issuers. Investigators and card issuers haven’t quantified damages from the attack.