By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2007-06-15 Print this article Print

Some retailers have tried to mitigate the damage by using older customer data, on the belief that such data would have outdated information that might be less valuable if intercepted. But Mark Rasch, the former head of the U.S. Justice Departments high-tech crimes unit and currently a security consultant in Washington, questions that premise. "The fallacy is that there is something called old data," Rasch said, adding that most credit card information—including name, address and often the credit card number itself—does not change with any frequency. "Whats personal about me tends to remain personal even with the passage of time," he said.
The credit cards expiration date will periodically change, but Rasch said theres such a small number of possible month/year combinations in the typical 2-year period that a thief could simply try them all until the right combination was discovered.
Rasch also has concerns about whether the use of such information for network testing violated "the implicit agreement between the merchant and the customer" that "you get my data for certain purposes, primarily to sell me the product and to validate payment." As for why test data hasnt been created to safely test systems, Rasch said its a matter of money. To make it work, the test data would have to have a lot of numbers, with segments created to replicate various banks and other processors. It would do a retailer little good, for example, to test a Visa connection using a MasterCard number or even a card number from one major bank when testing a different banks card. "The question really is, Whos going to pay for it?," Rasch said. Money is also behind the lack of security on the networks transmitting the test data, said the PCI Security Vendor Alliances Taylor. "These people are operating on a limited budget. What you secure first is the production environment and anything that is outwardly facing," he said. As for protecting the data itself, thats a combination of laziness coupled with cheapness, Taylor said. There is a way to properly sanitize test data, he said, but its a lot of work. He cited one insurance company that was testing with non-sanitized test data. "They didnt have any way of generating test data on an enterprise basis. No tools, no procedures, not even a policy. They had no system-level prevention at all," Taylor said. "They were using production data without masking, without encryption, without scrambling." Why? "Hey, its hard. Unless someone makes them do it, theyre not going to do it," Taylor said. "You need policies. Its so much easier to just copy production records." Is there a way out? Taylor said such numbers could be created by a group of card issuers coordinated by some overarching entity, such as Visa or some other industry group. Why has it not yet happened? Said Taylor: "I just assume its not their priority." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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