Security Experts:

Weak Remote Access Practices Contributed to Nearly All PoS Breaches: Trustwave

It's not just hype - point-of-sale (PoS) systems are being compromised more than ever, and much of the blame falls on mistakes surrounding remote access.

In a new report from Trustwave, experts examined data from 574 breach investigations across the world from 2014. The researchers discovered that the number of PoS breaches they investigated jumped some seven percent compared to 2013 and accounted for 40 percent of the firm's investigations last year. By and large, those PoS compromises came down to a failure to control remote access.

Many businesses don't keep technical staff in-house, explained Karl Sigler, threat intelligence manager at Trustwave. As a result, much of the networking infrastructure and PoS systems are often fitted with remote access software to prevent technicians from having to be physically present every time there is a technical problem or a patch release, he said.

"Unfortunately, these remote access solutions are often poorly secured," he said. "They are often open publicly on the internet as opposed to being locked down with proper access controls to only allow the technician’s systems access. They not only typically have weak or no passwords, they usually also share the exact same password across all systems in order to make it easy on the remote technician. Maintaining and remembering unique passwords for every store is often considered too complicated."

According to the report, weak remote security and passwords contributed to 94 percent of the PoS breaches the firm investigated. "Password1" was still the most commonly used password, they firm found, and 39 percent of passwords were eight characters long. On average, it took Trustwave security testers just a day to crack an eight-character password. The estimated time it took to crack a ten-character password is 591 days.

"Conducting security testing and risk assessments can help businesses identify weak passwords and update their password policies," advised Sigler. "Security awareness education training can also help because it teaches employees what constitutes a strong password. We recommend using longer passwords. Ten-character passwords are significantly more difficult to crack than six or seven-character passwords. Passphrases are effective because they are long and easier to remember."

Using proper access controls, unique passwords and two-factor authentication where possible would go a long way in helping to lock these businesses down, Sigler said.

By far, the retail sector was the most compromised industry, accounting for 43 percent of Trustwave's investigations. The food and beverage industry was next with 13 percent. The hospitality industry came in third with 12 percent. Some 42 percent of investigations were of e-commerce breaches, a drop off of 13 percent from 2013.

"With EMV soon becoming mandatory in the U.S., it’s especially critical that e-commerce merchants strengthen their security," Sigler said. "As we have seen in Europe and other regions that use EMV technology, criminals will not stop stealing payment card information; they will merely shift their targets to card-not-present businesses instead of card-present businesses. That’s because EMV technology makes it more difficult to clone and reuse stolen payment cards."

The full report can be read here.

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