By Charles Leaver

Millions of Target customers affected by data leakage

Currently, Target boasts more than 1,790 stores in the United States serving countless numbers of retail customers. However, the big box retailer recently confirmed being a victim of data leakage and putting the sensitive information of shoppers at risk.

Forbes reported that the data leakage, occurring during an attack that may have happened around the time of Black Friday, involved stolen information from credit card magnetic strips. Although the attack causing the breach may have been an isolated incident, investigators stated that it affects all Target locations in the country.

“Approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been impacted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013,” Target officials said in a statement.

The company went on to state that it alerted authorities as soon as the breach became apparent and is currently in the process of partnering with leading intrusion forensic firms to investigate the data leakage.  Among the information stolen was customers’ names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and three-digit security codes. This information can be used for a host of fraudulent activities, as attackers have all the data needed to create a fake payment card by encoding it onto a new magnetic strip.

Furthermore, Forbes pointed out that if attackers were able to steal PIN numbers as well, cards could even be used to withdraw funds from ATMs. This would require a malware infection on the store’s POS system, according to The New York Times.

“To pull it off, security experts said a company insider could have inserted malware into a company machine, or persuaded an unsuspecting employee to clink on a malicious link that downloaded malware that gives cybercriminals a foothold into a company’s point-of-sales systems,” the Times stated.

Target chairman and chief executive Gregg Steinhafel said the store is taking the instance very seriously and is working alongside officials to locate those responsible.

Steps to prevent being a victim
This case is one of the most far-reaching instances of data leakage within the past year, affecting millions of Target shoppers across the country. For this reason, consumers should be sure to take certain steps to prevent becoming a victim.

Customers who shopped at the store between the end of November and mid-December should keep a watchful eye on account activity and bank statements to detect any suspicious charges. If a charge appears that a consumer does not recognize, he or she should contact their financial institution as soon as possible to mitigate any damage. If fraudulent activity does appear, the Los Angeles Times advises also contacting the Federal Trade Commission to report it.

Additionally, if consumers find that their account has been compromised by the data leakage, they should implement a fraud alert on their credit report to prevent further harm. The Los Angeles Times stated that this can help prevent attackers from opening additional fraudulent accounts as organizations must verify the customers’ identity before issuing any credit.

Furthermore, individuals can also consider having a security freeze placed on credit reports so information is not released without their permission.

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