Target says 40 million credit and debit card accounts are at risk after crooks infiltrated the US megastore chain's payment systems.
It's feared criminals harvested customers' sensitive banking details between November 27 and December 15, right in the middle of America's peak shopping season. The leak leaves shoppers vulnerable to potential fraud.
The retail giant today confirmed there had been "unauthorized access to payment card data", after investigative journo Brian Krebs broke the news of the infiltration on his website. His sources claimed hackers copied card numbers, names and other data from the magstripes on victims' cards after they were swiped at the tills, allowing the crooks to produce cloned cards.
The breach was perfectly timed to take advantage of Americans flooding stores to buy holiday gifts. Target is now probing the attack, with the help of the authorities and banks, to ensure it doesn't happen again.
"Target’s first priority is preserving the trust of our guests [customers] and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause,” Target president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement.
"We take this matter very seriously and are working with law enforcement to bring those responsible to justice."
Based out of Minneapolis, Target is among the largest of the "big box" retailers in North America. The company reports that it has 1,778 stores in the US and Canada, and logged more than $73.3bn in revenue last year.
Krebs cites sources at credit-card issuers, who believe the breach could have involved nearly every Target outlet in the country.
Should the breach be as massive as believed, the fallout could rival that of the 2007 wireless network breach of TJ Maxx parent TJX Companies: sensitive data on 45.7 million credit card accounts was harvested from compromised systems within the retail giant's infrastructure.
That incident proved to have major repercussions for TJX as the company spent years rebuilding its reputation, and ultimately cost it more than $110m – perhaps as much as $256m.
Target will likely now have a long road of investigations, audits and reconciliations in the coming months while customers will need to keep a close eye on their bank and credit card statements for signs of fraud. ®