The Target trademark bull's-eye took on a whole new meaning when as many as 40 million of its customers' credit and debit cards were compromised during the holiday shopping season.
After confirming that hackers accessed credit and debit card information of those who shopped at the retail giant from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, the company urged those individuals to vigilantly monitor their credit report.
The breach was widespread, jaw-dropping and scary -- and it should be a major alarm bell for card security in the United States. It's still unclear exactly how this occurred, but it is clear that some very simple measures should have been taken much earlier.
Chips embedded in debit and credit cards have been in use for more than a decade. More than 80 nations use this encrypted technology instead of the outmoded magnetic strip that Americans rely on, which can easily be duplicated and sold on the black market in the form of bulk credit card numbers.
The nonprofit group EMV Migration Forum, which advocates for the widespread use of chip cards, estimates that less than 1 percent of the U.S. market employs these types of cards, although in the next two years that number is expected to shift dramatically.
Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover have implemented a plan that would require merchants to adapt card readers for these so-called smart cards by October 2015. If they don't, they are on the hook for the use of cards for fraudulent purposes, according to the forum. It's one way to roll out chip cards, but it's a little late.
It's embarrassing that in the world's largest economy, where we have bred some of the globe's most sophisticated technology, we are so far behind.
After all, it's no secret just how massive fraud is -- a more than $11 billion industry worldwide last year, according to Nilson Report. And in the U.S., it has been a growth industry.
The implementation of chip cards could change that.
Canada, which started widespread use of the chip cards in 2008, has seen a massive drop in fraud, according to the Forum, to $35 million in 2012 from $142 million in 2009.
With a bit more security, Target might not have been the bull's-eye for thieves.
Now, lawsuits over negligence on the company's part are being filed. The Wall Street Journal reported a slip in sales on the weekend before Christmas, despite the company's 10 percent discount mea culpa. And JPMorgan Chase & Company announced that it would limit the daily cash withdrawal and spending for about 2 million of its customers who shopped from Nov. 27 through Dec. 15.
Target's debacle has become a case study on how the holidays were hacked.