We’re all getting a little more worldly wise to the dangers that lurk around every corner of our digital lives. We know that the flipside of being able to shop, chat, bank and share online at the push of a button is the risk of data theft, ransomware and identity fraud. That’s why we protect our families’ PCs and mobile devices with security solutions from proven providers like Trend Micro, and take extra care each time we fire up the internet.
But what about the firms that we entrust to handle our data securely?
Unfortunately, many of these organizations still aren’t doing enough to protect our personal and financial information. It could be data we enter online to pay for an item or open an account. Or it could be payment card details that we’ve used at a local outlet which are subsequently stored online. These companies are big targets for the bad guys, who only have to get lucky once to crack open an Aladdin’s Cave of lucrative customer data.
What does this mean? That data leaks are the new normal. Last year in the US there were a reported 1,473 of these incidents, exposing nearly 165 million customer records. The latest affected customers of convenience store and gas station chain Wawa — and it could be one of the biggest ever, affecting 30 million cards.
Let’s take a look at what happened, and what consumers can do to steal a march on the bad guys.
What happened this time?
Wawa first notified its customers of a payment card leak in December 2019. But although the firm discovered malware on its payment processing servers that month, it had actually been sitting there since March, potentially siphoning card data silently from every single Wawa location. That’s more than 850 stores, across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and Washington DC.
The company itself has so far declined to put a number on how many customers have been affected. However, while cardholders were still wondering whether they’ve been impacted or not, something else happened. At the end of January, a hacker began to upload the stolen cards to a notorious dark web marketplace, known as Joker’s Stash.
They are claiming to have 30 million stolen cards in total, which if accurate could make this one of the biggest card leaks of its kind, placing it alongside other incidents at Home Depot (2014) and Target (2013).
How does it affect me?
Once the data goes on sale on a dark web market like this, it is usually bought by scammers, who use it in follow-on identity fraud attacks. In this case, the stolen data includes debit and credit card numbers, expiration dates and cardholder names, but not PINs or CVV records. That means they can’t be used at ATMs and fraudsters will find it hard to use the cards online, as most merchants require the CVV number.
However, if the cards are of the old magstripe type, they could be cloned for use in face-to-face transactions.
Although Wawa said it has informed the relevant card issuers and brands, the cardholders themselves must monitor their cards for unusual transactions and then report to their issuer “in a timely manner” if they want to be reimbursed for any fraudulent usage. This can be a distressing, time-consuming process.
What should I do next?
This is by no means the first and it won’t be the last leak of this kind. In the past, data stolen from customers of Hilton Hotels, supermarket chain Hy-Vee, retailer Bebe Stores, and restaurant chains including Krystal, Moe’s and Schlotzsky’s has turned up for sale on Joker’s Stash. It can be dispiriting for consumers to see their personal data time and again compromised in this way by cyber-criminals.
Too often in the aftermath of such incidents, the customers themselves are left in the dark. There is no information on whether they’ve definitively had their personal or card data stolen, just an ominous sense that something bad may be about to happen. If the company itself doesn’t even know how many cards have been affected, how can you act decisively?
Credit monitoring is often provided by leaked firms, but this is a less-than-perfect solution. For one thing, such services only alert the user if a new line of credit is being opened in their name — not if a stolen card is being used. And second, they only raise the alarm after the incident, by which time the fraudsters may already have made a serious dent in your finances.
Monitoring your bank account for fraudulent transactions is arguably more useful in cases like the Wawa leak, but it’s still too reactive. Here’s a handy 2-step plan which could provide better results:
Step 1: Dark web monitoring works
To get more proactive, consumers need Dark Web monitoring. These tools typically scour dark web sites like Joker’s Stash to look for your personal information. The beauty of this approach is that it can raise the alarm after a leak has occurred, when the data is posted to the Dark Web, but before a fraudster has had time to monetize your stolen details. With this information, you can proactively request that your lender block a particular card and issue a new one.
This approach works for all personal data you may want to keep protected, including email addresses, driver’s license, passport numbers and passwords.
Step 2: Password protection
Once you’ve determined that your data has been part of a leak and is being sold on the dark web, one of the most important things you can do is to change your passwords to any stolen accounts, in order to minimize the potential damage that fraudsters can do.
This is where password manager tools can come in very handy. They allow users to store and recall long, strong and unique credentials for each of the websites and apps they use. This means that if one password is compromised, as in a leak scenario, your other accounts will remain secure. It also makes passwords harder for hackers to guess, which they may try to do with automated tools if they already have your email address.
Following a leak, it also makes sense to look out for follow-on phishing attacks which may try to trick you into handing over more information to the fraudsters. Here are a few tips:
- Be wary of any unsolicited email, even if it appears to come from a reputable vendor
- Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails, or download attachments
- If an email asks you for personal data, check directly with the source, rather than clicking through/replying
- Invest in AV with anti-phishing from a trusted vendor, for all desktop and mobile devices
- Ensure all operating systems and applications are on the latest version.
How Trend Micro can help
Fortunately, Trend Micro has several products that can help you, as a potential or actual victim of a data leak, to proactively mitigate the fallout from a serious security incident, or to foil the fraudsters:
Trend Micro ID Security: checks if your personal information has been uploaded to Dark Web sites by hackers. This highly secure service, available in apps for Android and iOS mobile devices, uses data hashing and an encrypted connected to keep your details safe, alerting when it has found a match on the Dark Web so you can take action. Use it to protect your emails, credit card numbers, passwords, bank accounts, passport details and more.
Trend Micro Password Manager: provides a secure place to store, manage and update your passwords. It remembers your log-ins, so you can create secure and unique credentials for each website/app you need to sign-in to. This means if one site is leaked, hackers will not be able to use that password to open your other accounts. Password Manager is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, synchronizing your passwords across all four platforms.
Trend Micro Email Defender: is a free online service you can use to check suspicious emails It uses advanced machine learning technology to identify scam emails that don’t contain malicious URLs or attachments but still pose a risk to the user, because the email (which may be extortionist) reflects the fact that the fraudster probably got your email address from the Dark Web in the first place. Users can then decide to report the scam, get more details, or proceed as before.
Email Defender is also now integrated into Trend Micro Security for Windows, protecting Gmail and Outlook webmail in Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox. It’s also integrated in Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac, where it does the same for Gmail webmail in Safari, Chrome and Firefox on the Mac.
In the end, only you can guard your identity credentials with vigilance.