Chili's Discloses Data Breach Exposing Payment Card Information

The restaurant chain publicly discloses that it was the victim of a data breach that went undetected for two months, as security experts recommend continued vigilance for organizations to stay safe.

Backoff malware

Restaurant chain Chili's is the latest retailer to report a data breach involving point of sale (PoS) security.

Brinker International, which operates over 1,600 Chili's restaurants globally, announced the data breach on May 12, after becoming aware of the security incident the day before. The company did not reveal how many customers have been impacted by the breach, though it did state that payment card information was stolen over a two-month period.

"Based on the details of the issue currently uncovered, we believe that malware was used to gather payment card information including credit or debit card numbers as well as cardholder names from our payment-related systems for in-restaurant purchases at certain Chili's restaurants," Brinker International stated. "Currently, we believe the data incident was limited to between March – April 2018; however, we continue to assess the scope of the incident."

Chili's joins a growing list of organizations that have reported retail security breaches in 2018. On April 1, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor announced a data breach that impacted 5 million credit card holders. Also in April, Best Buy, Delta and Sears all reported data breaches due to a third-party chat widget security incident.

Brinker International said it is working with third-party forensic experts and law enforcement officials to determine the root cause of the Chili's data breach. While payment card information was stolen, the company noted that personal information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and federal or state identification numbers was not stolen, as Chili's doesn't collect that information from customers.

Industry Response

"This is another example of the new normal. However, it once again reinforces the need for organizations to deploy a multi-layered approach to protecting their cyber-posture," Mukul Kumar, chief information security officer and vice president of Cyber Practice at Cavirin, told eWEEK.

Kumar noted that the Brinker International statement indicates that malware was involved, which likely means that PoS systems, operating systems and applications where compromised. He added that there is a growing awareness of the threat to the vendor supply chain, and the requirement to implement best practices such as continual assessments and patching.  

"Although Chili's itself may implement best-in-class security, they must also ensure that their vendors do the same," Kumar said.

Organizations that handle payments are required to be compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS) that are intended to help mitigate security risks. Chris Roberts, chief security architect at Acalvio, said he assumes that Chili's was PCI-DSS compliant and yet it was still breached. It's still too easy to tamper with PoS systems as there are still many issues, such as lack of patching and insecure defaults, Roberts said.

"Frankly, it's still too easy to gain access to PoS systems in restaurants," Roberts told eWEEK. "Access to a PoS system and its ability to repel malware is still not where it needs to be."

For organizations looking to improve PoS security, there are several things that can be done, according to Erin Swanson, senior director of marketing at Demisto. Swanson recommends training staff to better identify typical fraudulent activity, safeguarding POS equipment and surrounding areas, and installing security cameras to deter thieves in the first place.   

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.