What to do in the wake of the Backoff malware attack

Consumer Reports

Retailers, restaurants, and other businesses have a new form of malware to fight, called Backoff. This latest form of cybercrime attacks remote-desktop applications that are used by point-of-sale systems, picking up credit cards and other consumer information along the way.

Details about Backoff were released today in a report by the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service. The malware is so new that anti-virus programs don't yet have the signatures to detect it.

About 600 brick-and-mortar businesses, large and small, were affected by the malware, according to Karl Sigler, threat intelligence manager for Trustwave, a security company that helped uncover the malware. Names of the businesses have not been released yet, since a criminal investigation is ongoing.

Backoff allows cybercriminals to infiltrate the remote-access software often used by vendors of point-of-sale systems when problems arise with those systems. Once Backoff gets access to the remote software (often because of weak passwords), it waits for credit-card info to be entered, encrypts it, and sends the numbers to cyberthieves, Sigler said. Backoff can both log keystrokes, for example when a clerk manually enters a credit card number, or scrape credit and debit card data from the system’s memory.

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 “There have been no signs of fraudulent activity [on credit cards] yet,” Stigler said. “It can be alarming, but in the end, this is just shining a light on the fact that these vendors aren’t using best practices to prevent this kind of attack.”

Ironically, he adds, online shopping is a bit more secure than shopping in physical stores. “Your own computer is more in your control,” Stigler said.

—Donna Tapellini



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