Hackers Crack Credit Card Security

A security breach of customer information at CardSystems Solutions could expose to fraud up to 40 million cardholders.
A computer hacker may have accessed more than 40 million credit card accounts in what could be the largest in a series of recent security breaches involving consumer data, officials said.

MasterCard International Inc. announced Friday that the breach was traced to Atlanta-based CardSystems Solutions Inc., which processes credit card and other payments for banks and merchants. All brands of credit cards could be affected.

The compromised data did not include addresses or Social Security numbers, said MasterCard spokeswoman Sharon Gamsin. The data that may have been viewed--names, banks and account numbers--could be used to steal funds, but not identities.

Gamsin said she did not know how the virus-like computer script that captured customer data got into CardSystems' network, which MasterCard said was infiltrated by an "unauthorized individual." Neither company would elaborate.

The Early Show financial adviser Ray Martin offers tips of what to do to protect your identity at the end of this article.

The FBI was investigating.

MasterCard said 14 million of its customers may have been exposed to fraud. A spokeswoman for American Express said a small number of its cardholders were affected, but would not give an exact number. Discover Financial Services Inc. wouldn't say whether its customers were affected. Visa USA and a large issuer of cards, MBNA Corp., did not return calls for comment Friday.

The incident was the latest in a series of security lapses affecting consumer information. The breach appears to be the largest yet involving financial data, said David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"The steady stream of these disclosures shows the pressing need for regulation of the industry both in terms of limitation in the amount of personal information that companies collect and also liability when these kinds of disclosures occur," he said.

Under federal law, credit card holders are liable for no more than $50 of unauthorized charges, and many card issuers will even waive the $50.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.