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ModPOS: How can enterprises defend against POS malware?

ModPOS, a new POS malware, compromised millions of credit card accounts in 2015. Expert Nick Lewis explains how cybercriminals use this malware and what can be done to stop it.

A new type of malware targeting point-of-sale (POS) systems called ModPOS targeted retailers over the holiday season and compromised millions of credit card accounts. How does this new POS malware work, and can anything be done about it?

Most POS malware seems to have the same functionality and the same end goal of stealing credit card information. Anything beyond that might be seen as a waste of time for credit card fraud rings that target many different POS systems and retailers. The extra effort to hide malware past the period of time it takes a bank to determine if a merchant has been compromised might also be seen as a waste. It was previously thought that attackers would not make the effort to organize targeted custom attacks using advanced techniques, but as iSIGHT Partners discovered while investigating the ModPOS malware, some criminals are doing just that.

The ModPOS malware has the same basic functions as most POS malware, but what sets it apart is the customization and the seemingly professional-level software development of the malware. Three of ModPOS' relatively unique functions are: to download updated binaries from websites via Web error messages -- assuming the IDS will ignore the connection since the remote server generated an error on the connection -- using packed kernel modules for the malware operations to make the executables more difficult to detect and analyze, and having a large number of functions that can be reused.

The same steps mandated by PCI DSS as part of basic cyber hygiene can be used to prevent attacks like ModPOS. iSIGHT Partners' published findings and threat intelligence can help other enterprises defend their systems, but it should be noted that the malware seems to be customized to a target-by-target basis. The component detected as malware prior to iSIGHT Partners' publication was not identified as POS malware and was labeled as a low risk. While the malware is a low risk to the general public, if it is found in a POS environment, it should be thoroughly investigated.

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Next Steps

Read how your enterprise can defend against evolving POS malware like PoSeidon

Learn about the PoS security weaknesses pointed out by major retail breaches

Find out if whitelisting technology will protect POS terminals against malware

This was last published in April 2016

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