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[personal profile] thewayne
Back in March, Brian Krebs posted an article titled Why I Always Tug On The ATM. It boils down to there being a limited number of ways that your credit card information can be stolen:

1. Financial institution is hacked
2. Malware is implanted on a merchant's network, possibly on point of sale (POS) card scanners
3. Hardware is covertly installed on or in POS card scanners

You can't do anything about #1. The first time my banking information was compromised was about seven years ago. I was at my parent's house in Phoenix, heading to Las Vegas to a convention when I saw a charge on my checking account for $80ish at a truck stop in North Carolina, a state where I hadn't been in five years. Turns out that a check processing company in Albuquerque had been hacked and they managed to create a bank card from that info. That hack never hit the news.

#2 is the classic Target hack, though that was an extreme example where the criminals managed complete subversion of their cash register system. They could have done what North Korea did to Sony over the release of The Interview. Arby's, Wendy's, CiCi's, you name it. And you can't do anything about this, either.

#3 is something that you can attempt a bit of defense with.

Skimming comes in two flavors, an overlay or an insert. The overlays are easy. The criminals somehow manufacture a flimsy plastic module containing electronics, generally a card reader for capturing card information, a camera for capturing PINs, and a Bluetooth radio for transmitting the info. The whole thing can be quickly slipped over a card reader at a cashier station. It's a two or three man job: distract the cashier, obscure the overhead security camera, slip the shell over the reader. The shell is precisely made for specific models of card readers and will only fit on those models. There are a few 'tells' that help identify an overlay. The colors will be slightly off. It will feel like thin plastic. The graphics won't look quite right. The dimensions will be slightly off. If you pay attention to the card terminals that you use, you might notice these.

But the best way to notice is to tug. Give the terminal a squeeze and a pull. It should feel solid and it should be solidly anchored to the pedestal that it's secured to.

Gas stations are a slightly different problem. These will sometimes have overlays, so a visual inspection and a tug test is good, but they also may have internal skimmers. These are tiny circuit boards that are actually slipped in to the card slot that read the inserted card and store the info. They don't collect as much information as an overlay, but it's still enough to cause you problems with card theft, and it's not easy to spot these.

Gas stations have taken some defensive measures. You'll notice there are security tape seals where the panels open on the pumps to show they haven't been tampered with, but let's face it, it wouldn't be hard to make fakes of those. But they've also improved the design of the pump faces to try and make it harder for skimmers to be installed, ATM makers have also tried defensive design with varying success.

Brian Krebs' suggestion is that the best defense is to never use a debit card at a terminal that you don't have absolute confidence in, only use a credit card. The reason for this is that credit cards have legal limits for fraud protection, debit cards do not. Your bank may limit your liability if your debit card is compromised, but they are not REQUIRED to by law. So you can trust your bank if you like, but you need to know that they don't have to back you.

Another way to defend yourself, if you have a fairly recent smartphone with Near Field Communications (NFC) and your merchant supports it, is to use Apple Pay or Google Pay. Microsoft tried to set up a wallet system, but it never gained traction and has been relegated to the dustbin of history. BE WARNED: these payment systems take a little getting used to! I set up Apple Pay last week: I've used it four times, I've been successful ONCE. I know how I failed the first time, and I suspect how I failed the other two times, so I think I have it figured out, but still, be prepared for a learning curve.

Apple has an exhaustive explanation of how their system works, and it is really elegant. From what I understand, even if the POS terminal has malware installed, if you use Apple Pay the criminals will get nothing usable. The information is not just encrypted, it's done with a one-way encryption that cannot be reversed after it's transmitted, so no card information can be recovered by an intercepting criminal. The merchant identifier and transaction amount is appended, the packet is sent to your financial org, which authorizes it, and the bill is paid. Your information is never exposed.

I'm sure Google's system works in a similar fashion, but the info that I easily found didn't go in to nearly as much detail as what I found with a casual search for Apple's system.

And I have to tell you, the Apple method for registering a card was amazingly cool: take a picture of your credit card. I was sitting in my partially demolished computer area, in somewhat poor lighting, and it said to take a picture of your card. So I pulled out my personal debit card, and it read it perfectly. Done. Pulled out the debit card in my name for my wife's checking account. For some reason, within about a month of receiving it the gold paint on the letters is completely gone. There was no strong side lighting to provide contrast for the lettering, yet my iPhone 6S had no trouble reading the card! I was VERY impressed. The third card that I registered was my credit card, and that one also registered fine, except it got the expiration date wrong, and that was easy to correct.

You can also manually enter the card information.

You can also use Apple Wallet for concert tickets! I used them for Jethro Tull, which was convenient because I forgot to take the printouts. It looked to me like 75% of the people in line were using smart phones for their tickets.

iPhone 6 series and later, which includes the SE, have NFC. Apple Wallet can be configured to use a fingerprint to authorize rather than the phone's password, regardless of whether you use a password to unlock the phone. Androids that run version 4.4 of the OS or later should have NFC. I saw that sometimes Android updates can cause headaches for Wallet users.

Anyway, that's enough blathering. The best defense, of course, is to always pay in cash. But that brings up two problems: carrying large sums of cash, and do you get the cash from the bank, which may involve lots of inconvenience, or do you trust the ATM to not have been compromised?

It seems to be never-ending.
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