Skimming made easier with hacked portable card payment machines

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Hacked portable POS devices are now making it easier for crooks to steal card numbers.
Hacked portable POS devices are now making it easier for crooks to steal card numbers.

For years electronic skimming devices have been stealing credit and debit card information with varied success, but the researchers at global cyber security company Group-IB have noticed an increasing amount of modified point-of-sale (POS) devices circulating in underground markets.

It is possible that other models may be in use, but Group-IB focused on one in particular: the VeriFone VX670.

VeriFone's wireless point-of-sale (POS) machine has been completing portable business transactions for nearly 10 years, but now at least one cyber crook is selling a modified version of the device that will capture card numbers and send the data to scammers via cable or wireless connection. It is easy to use and pretty seamless, too.

Andrey Komarov, CTO and head of international projects with Group-IB, told SCMagazine.com on Tuesday that one reason the modified device is attractive to skimmers is that it can send data through general packet radio service (GPRS), Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, so all a user has to do is sit nearby and collect card data as it is processed.

Other reasons these devices are popular is their ability to store a lot of information, read track 1 and track 2 of a card's magnetic strip, detect PIN codes, and alter what is printed on a receipt, according to Komarov.

“It is hard to detect on the bank side,” he said. “[The banks] need to analyze the possible location of the fraud. It is hard because you need to analyze the merchants where the card was used and interview the victim.” At that point the crook would have likely recovered the device, Komarov added.

Komarov said he first heard of the devices being used in Moscow restaurants where $30,000 was being taken every month. Since then he has seen it pop up across the globe in retail locations and hotels.

“The key area is resort locations,” Komarov said, pointing to Asian countries, such as Thailand, where he said card security is not as high a priority.

The modified VeriFone device can be purchased for $3,000 on various underground websites, Komarov said, but “it is also possible to rent it [for] $2,000,” plus an additional 20 percent of the material theft.

The device's creator is suspected of having “Russian-speaking roots,” Komarov said, referencing a Sberbank card that was used in a vendor video to demonstrate the modified VeriFone device. Sberbank is the largest bank in Russia and Eastern Europe.

“Tampered devices are well-known since 2007,” Komarov said, explaining this type of campaign may be a game changer because $5,000 to $10,000 ATM skimmers are becoming increasingly harder to hide and POS malware is difficult to install due to a lack of vulnerable machines and the need of insider help.

Financial services corporation Visa offers tips to businesses on how to protect against tampering of POS devices, including conducting frequent investigations for simple abnormalities, such as missing screws, extra holes or excess wiring.

From a customer perspective, Komarov suggested people use an EMV card – which contains a microprocessor chip that prevents card information from being accessed by unauthorized parties – and said that cardholders should only use approved POS devices that contain a hologram.

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