By Keith Ferrell
Dec 18, 2009
The inclusion of RAM scrapers in a recent Verizon Business list of the
top data breach attack vectors has prompted a bit of buzz about what
exactly RAM scraping is and how much of a threat it poses.
A RAM scraper as identified in the Verizon Business Data Breach
Investigation report is a piece of customized malware created to grab
credit card, PIN, and other confidential information out of a system's
volatile memory. The RAM-scraping breaches in Verizon's report occurred
in point-of-sale (POS) servers.
RAM scraping is not really what's new, but what Verizon flagged as the
emergent threat trend is RAM scraping in POS devices.
Why go after the data in RAM? Because in many ways it's easier to grab
there. Current PCI compliance standards require the end-to-end
encryption of sensitive payment card data when being transmitted,
received, or stored. Data then is exposed at the endpoints, during
processing, when the unencrypted credit card data is resident in the POS
device's RAM. That's where the RAM scraper can cherry-pick the data
being processed, capturing only those strings related to card
identifiers rather than performing bulk data grabs. This minimizes the
scraper's presence and, far from incidentally, reduces the prospects of
its being detected as a result of dramatically increased server traffic
or other illicit activity flags.
One of the incidents Verizon Business's RISK Team investigated was
discovered as a result of a spike in credit card fraud reports from a
casino: The RAM scraper itself wasn't detected on the server. The
scraper dumped the card data to a .dll -- unsubtly named dumper.dll --
in a Windows system subdirectory, where it waited for retrieval by the
scraper's owners, who had backdoor access.
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