Hackers put security tool that finds payment card data into their arsenal

Cracked versions of Card Recon, a PCI compliance tool, have been found in malware

Like a crowbar, security software tools can be used for good and evil.

Bootleg versions of a powerful tool called "Card Recon" from Ground Labs, which searches for payment card data stored in the nooks and crannies of networks, have been appropriated by cybercriminals.

This month, the security companies Trend Micro and Arbor Networks published research into point-of-sale malware, which has been blamed for data breaches at retailers such as Target and Neiman Marcus, sparking concerns over the security of consumer data.

Both companies found that unauthorized copies of Card Recon had been incorporated into a malware program and a toolkit designed for finding and attacking POS terminals.

"Card Recon looks to be a useful tool when wielded by an auditor or security staff, but it is clearly dangerous in the wrong hands," Arbor Networks wrote in its report.

Card Recon is intended for organizations seeking to comply with the Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), a set of recommendations to safeguard payment card data.

The software tool scans all parts of a network to see where payment card data is stored. Often, companies find card details stashed in unlikely and unknown places. Card Recon compiles a thorough report, and companies can then move to secure the data.

The software requires license authorization before it will run, which prevents direct illegitimate use, said Stephen Cavey, Ground Labs' co-founder and director of corporate development, via email. But it's impossible to restrict access to Card Recon's software executable after a genuine customer has obtained it.

More than 300 security auditors worldwide and thousands of merchant companies use Card Recon, he said.

"This is the unfortunate reality for all software vendors: It is common for criminals to acquire a copy of commercial software via unauthorized means and then reverse engineer that software to circumvent the licensing mechanisms that are designed to prevent its unauthorized use," Cavey said.

Numaan Huq, a senior threat researcher for Trend Micro, wrote on Wednesday that a version of Card Recon dating from three years ago was being used to validate payment card details in a type of POS malware.

When Card Recon is scanning, it has to be able to separate 16-digit numbers and other random data it finds from valid 16-digit credit card numbers. Credit card numbers can be validated by using a checksum formula called the Luhn algorithm.

The malware Huq studied used Card Recon to validate and identify cards by brands such as Discover, Visa and MasterCard. Using Card Recon was faster than other validation methods, especially for large volumes of card data, he wrote.

Arbor Networks wrote in its report that the attack toolkit it observed contained two cracked copies of Card Recon. In that instance, it appears Card Recon was being used for its intended purpose -- to find card numbers -- but for cybercriminals.

If anything, the abuse of Card Recon strengthens a case for its legitimate use. Ground Labs' Cavey said the best defense is to remove sensitive data.

"They can't steal what is no longer there," he said.

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

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags arbor networkstrend microsecuritydata breachGround Labsmalware

More about Arbor NetworksArbor NetworksGround LabsTrend Micro AustraliaVisa

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