Sonic data breach: Let it be a lesson

Sonic drive-in is one of the latest victims in a long line of recent cybersecurity breaches. The fast food restaurant, which has 3,600 locations across 45 states, has acknowledged a breach affecting an unknown number of store payment systems, potentially affecting millions of people.

In mid-September, Sonic was notified of unusual activity involving cards used at their restaurants by their credit card processor. To shed more light on the situation, KrebsonSecurity reported a recent dump of credit card info on a dark web credit card market called Joker's Stash, which contained card numbers recently used at Sonic.

In these underground cybercrime stores, KrebsonSecurity noted the cards advertised are priced somewhat higher than cards stolen in other breaches. He explains that this is likely because this batch of cards is still extremely fresh and have not yet been canceled by card-issuing banks.

What determines the price of a card on the dark web? Most range in price from $25 to $50—a number influenced by factors including the type of card issued (Amex, Visa, MasterCard, etc); the card’s level (classic, standard, signature, platinum, etc.); whether the card is debit or credit; and the issuing bank.[1]

How does this happen and are fast food chains particularly susceptible to cyberattacks? We’ve compiled some answers below.


How did (and does) this happen?

Cybercriminals can steal credit card data from organizations that accept cards by hacking into their point-of-sale systems remotely. Once inside the system, they can install malicious software that copies account data stored on a card’s magnetic stripe. With this information, hackers can create counterfeit cards and either sell them or use them to purchase high-priced merchandise.

However, you could argue that Sonic’s less-than-perfect data protection management is not the only thing at fault. Financial institutions must also bear some of the blame for the way things are.

The United States is the last of the G20 nations to move to chip-based cards, which are far more expensive and difficult for criminals to counterfeit. Despite the clear evidence in favour of more secure, chip-based cards, many financial institutions still haven’t gotten around to replacing traditional magnetic stripe cards, which may help explain why this type of attack continues to occur.


Are fast food chains an easier target than other types of businesses? Why?

Fast food chains, like retailers in general, are more susceptible to cyberattacks than other industries because of the multi-site, distributed model of their business. As it stands, many effective detection and response cybersecurity defenses come with six-figure price tags, which goes well beyond the budget of most franchise owners. Therefore, each individual location (franchise or corporate) represents a potentially weak link in the fast food chain’s operations. This makes fast food chains a vulnerable and lucrative target, which is a recipe for victimization at the hands of cybercriminals who know they’re easier to breach than a large bank or insurance company.


What can Sonic (and other chains) do to prevent this from happening?

Beyond standard PoS security, Sonic and other similar business should focus on the connections between the parent entity and the franchise, and monitor this traffic for indicators of compromise. Also placing controls on point-of-sale systems to prevent unwanted and potentially hazardous activity (web browsing or personal email viewing) greatly reduces the risk of compromise on mission critical systems.  And of course, these companies should provide ongoing security awareness training to store location and headquarter employees.


Learn more

As cyberthreats continue to evolve, businesses without adequate cybersecurity defenses will be attacked over and over again, affecting both revenue and reputation. With Managed Detection and Response, our SOC can be a great resource to monitor operations when you can’t do it all. We’ve got your back.  Let us know what we can do to help.

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