Windows XP support cutoff poses data breach risk for retailers

Symantec said retailers running Windows XP-based POS terminals will soon face an increased attack risk

Retailers will face an increased risk of data breaches after Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, a version of which powers the majority of modern cash registers, security vendor Symantec warned in a report published Monday.

Many point-of-sale (POS) devices run the Windows XP version of Windows Embedded, a scaled-down version of the operating system designed for devices such as set-top boxes and vehicle computers. Microsoft will no longer provide security patches for Windows XP as of April 8, when it ends support for the 13-year-old OS.

"This event will certainly place POS operators under increased risk of a successful attack, and POS operators should already have mitigation plans in place to meet this coming deadline," Symantec's 12-page report said.

Cybercriminals installed malware on the systems of Target and Neiman Marcus, which collected unencrypted payment card details after a customer's card was swiped. In December, Target said 40 million payment card records were compromised plus 70 million other records, making it one of the largest reported data breaches on record.

Neiman Marcus said up to 1.1 million cards were compromised between July and October 2013 but opted to notify all customers who have shopped at its stores since January 2013.

RSA, the security division of enterprise software vendor EMC, said on Thursday it found 119 POS terminals belonging to 45 retailers, 32 of which are based in the U.S., may be infected with malicious software.

Since the POS terminals run Windows, it's easy for hackers to repurpose other Windows malware to suite their needs, Symantec wrote.

"This means that attackers do not need specialized skills in order to target POS systems," it wrote.

Security experts theorize that POS hackers are either attacking the terminals directly from the Internet or are finding another way into company networks by exploiting other software vulnerabilities.

Companies handling payment card data are required by Visa and MasterCard to follow industry security practices, known as the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS). Those standards recommend but do not require retailers to isolate networks that handle card data, termed the cardholder data environment (CDE), Symantec wrote.

POS systems must be accessible for software updates, the export of business data such as purchase orders and inventory, and to connect with external payment processors, the report said.

"While a strictly controlled and completely isolated POS system network would be quite secure, it is too impractical for serious consideration," it said.

Orla Cox, senior manager of Symantec's Security Intelligence Delivery, wrote on the company's blog that card theft attacks are likely to continue because "stolen card data has a limited shelf life."

"Credit card companies are quick to spot anomalous spending patterns, as are observant card owners," she wrote. "This means that criminals need a steady supply of 'fresh' card numbers."

Send news tips and comments to Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intrusionsymantecsecuritydata breachdata protectionmalwarersaemc

More about EMC CorporationMicrosoftRSASymantecVisa

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place