Retail executives go to Washington

Yesterday, this blog covered the fact that Congress was going to get involved with the point of sale security breaches that Target, Neiman Marcus and several other retailers experienced last year. In a hearing, several of these executives and other industry experts were on hand to speak about the current state of security.

A recent article from Yahoo News recapped the Senate Judiciary Committee that focused on the increasing sophistication of hackers and the need for better security measures and collaboration with banks in anti-security technology. The conversation was very much focused on the future and few new details about the crimes were brought up.

According to the executives, despite having quality credit card processing software and network solutions in place, the hacker groups were able get through the best security practices that they had in place.

"I think what we've learned … is that just having the tools and technology isn't enough in this day and age," Neiman Marcus Chief Information Officer Michael Kingston told the panel. "These attackers again are very, very sophisticated and they've figured out ways around that."

John Mulligan, Target's Chief Financial Officer, was asked if he was aware of the breach of his company's system that affected over 110 million customers, before the United States Justice Department notified the organization. Mulligan said that despite significant investments in detection and security solutions, the company was unaware of all of these problems.

This is the first of what could be several hearings that the executives will be taking part of over the next few days.

New technology could be the answer

Aside from the retail executives that were on Capitol Hill, there were also several industry experts on hand as well to discuss the challenges facing the industry as a whole. One of the biggest changes that will be coming over the next few years will be the use of payment cards known as "chip-and-PIN" – a microchip that stores customer information and requires the use of a personal code number to make further progress.

"It is of concern to me that our payment card systems really do need improvement," Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said at the hearing. "Based on latest information available to us … it's clear that companies need to do a lot more, that they continue to make basic mistakes."

According to Mulligan, Target is speeding up a plan that will see the company spend $100 million to implement chip-and-card technology. This will be split between upgrading the card readers and issuing new pay cards to users.

This kind of solution is already being used throughout Europe and is known as EMV. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said during the hearing that considering the solution is widely used in other countries, implementation in the U.S. should be easy.

"I don't want to say that we've left the door unlocked in the retail industry, but the locks are a lot less sophisticated," Blumenthal said. "Industries have some soul searching to do on whether they've been sufficiently protective of the consumer information."

The POS landscape is starting to undergo major changes and without the help of an experienced retail solution provider, any organization can easily find itself falling behind the competition.

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