Attack Of The RAM Scrapers

Attack Of The RAM Scrapers
Attack Of The RAM Scrapers 

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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