IEEE Reports Breach of 800 Engineers' Credit Card Data

More than 800 members of the engineering society IEEE received letters informing them their credit card numbers had been stolen, after they'd registered for a conference.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has notified more than 800 of its members that their credit card and other personal information were stolen from a member database.

The engineering society acknowledged the Nov. 17 breach to the New Hampshire attorney general on Feb. 24. Attackers may have obtained access to credit card information and the associated names for approximately 828 IEEE members, according to a letter IEEE sent to members.

The November hack was described in the letter as a "sophisticated network intrusion" by a third-party. The draft form of the letter was sent to the New Hampshire attorney general's office.

The IEEE discovered the breach and reported it to the FBI in December, according to the letter. A team of forensic investigators identified which data were missing on Feb. 10. The team also found and fixed security vulnerabilities that allowed the attackers to penetrate the system, Nathaniel Akerman of law firm Dorsey and Whitney wrote in the letter.

With over 400,000 members globally, IEEE claims on its Website to being the "world's largest technical professional society." Members work in varied fields such as aerospace, information technology, nuclear engineering, robotics and manufacturing.

According to the letter, only one of the affected members was a New Hampshire resident, but New Hampshire's mandatory breach-notification laws requires organizations to report all breaches to the attorney general's office if it involves any of the state's residents. There are similar laws in over 38 states.

Maryland's attorney general's office has also been notified. The office declined to say how many affected members were Maryland residents.

The IEEE had obtained credit card information for members when they had registered for an IEEE conference, the letter sent to affected members said. According to the letter, it appears that the card identification number (also known as CSC, CVC and CID numbers), the three-digit code usually found on the back of the card, was also among the information stolen. The stolen information included the credit card number, cardholder name, expiration data and the CID code.

This raises some questions about IEEE's data storage procedures. Storing the CID is a violation of the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), under PCI DSS Requirement 3.2.2 as listed on the PCI Security Standards Council Website.

The actual credit card number is also supposed to be stored as an encrypted value, such as a strong one-way hash or using strong cryptography, mandated by PCI DSS 3.4 requirement. It's not clear at this time how IEEE stored the credit card numbers, but the CID information should not have been stored in the first place. Most organizations tend to ask for the code and use it for validating the transaction, but they do not save it in their systems.

IEEE encouraged members to check their credit card statements carefully, cancel current cards and check their credit information. IEEE also offered a one-year subscription to LifeLock credit-monitoring service.

It also remains unclear whether the attackers just hit IEEE looking for credit card information and other personal information, or if there was another motive. Many IEEE members work in sensitive industries and organizations.