The week in security: Are you the next Target?

The compromise of US retailer Target became increasingly worrying as investigations into its genesis revealed more details about it. Experts had already pegged the attack as a deep hack into the company's systems, well before it confirmed that its point of sale terminals had been hacked with an in-memory Trojan that was stealing transaction data from under the company's noses.

Reports suggested the hackers would have trouble selling the estimated 40 million credit-card records they had captured, even as it was revealed the card data had been sent to a server in Russia. Target announced it would invest $US5 million on an education campaign to teach the public about cybersecurity dangers, but its overall handling of the incident came under fire.

In the wake of attacks on Target, Neiman Marcus (which apologised for its own breach while arguing that sensitive birth date and social security number details remained safe) and six other retailers found to have been breached, some were talking up the merits of higher-security debit and credit cards, while researchers identified other POS-based malware written in VBScript.

Indeed, malicious software of one sort or another may be present on every network, as a Cisco Systems analysis found. Others pointed out that it had now become possible for snoopers to steal data just by listening to the radio signals coming from a target computer. And Japan's Fujitsu has figured out a way to search large quantities of data even when it's encrypted.

That capability poses a new threat despite the efforts of initiatives like PCI DSS 3.0 to boost overall security of sensitive information. Little wonder Asia-Pacific companies are expected to be spending big on IT security technologies this year. Yet it was Google raised eyebrows after spending more than $US3 billion to acquire home-automation startup Nest, with some concerned about the privacy implications. Google, however, had other problems after it was targeted by spammers that modified links on the company's hospitality listings. Google also appealed against a French privacy authority's fine over its privacy policies.

Researchers reported that SD cards can be hacked, although one executive warned there were a lot more security problems facing mid-market companies. Potential targeting of smaller, less-secure companies that are part of larger supply chains is one of them. The move from Windows XP is another, although Microsoft said it would continue to provide antivirus updates for the soon-to-be-deprecated operating system until July 2015.

Cisco Systems promised it would fix a backdoor exploit in some of its routers, while Asus simplified its router configuration to fix a problem with its handling of external hard drives. And Juniper, for its part, was warned to reconsider its switching and security products after observations that they are underperforming.

A high-security phone, called the Blackphone and based on Android, is expected to debut at next month's Mobile World Congress, while mobile messaging startup Wickr is so confident in the security of its app that it has offered a $US100,000 bounty to anyone who finds a serious vulnerability in its code. Symantec identified a spam campaign that is targeting three Web services at once, while Twitter now requires encrypted API communications.

Even as some security experts voiced concerns that the NSA's advanced security-busting tools would find their way into hackers' hands eventually, hacker group the Syrian Electronic Army hijacked two Microsoft Twitter accounts and Kaspersky Lab warned of a Trojan banking tool that is alleged to enable attacks on any bank in any country.

With some experts forecasting the increasingly regional nature of cyberwar campaigns, US senators were questioning some recommended changes to the NSA's surveillance programs – recommended by US president Barack Obama – on the basis that they would impede counterterrorism efforts, and also put the blowtorch onto car maker Ford over its driver-tracking programs.

Obama broadly praised the NSA even as he issued an intelligence directive designed to hone the NSA's intelligence-gathering mission. The limited call for reform left many disappointed with the NSA reforms, particularly given his failure to address the NSA's work to weaken encryption standards and force the addition of backdoors into IT products. The proposals got mixed reviews overall and underscored the difficulties facing the Obama administration as it fights to balance national security needs with legitimate privacy concerns.

A hackathon was geared toward the 'liberation' of data from public PDF documents, while the Starbucks mobile app was singled out for a “wakeup call” given its weak protection of customer data (Starbucks quickly updated the app to fix the problem).

Online-storage service Dropbox was hit by an outage but denied it had been hacked, while a number of gaming sites were hit with a new type of DDoS attack even as reports suggested a growing role for mobile devices was leading to new types of DDoS attacks.

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