By KERRY BYRNES/Montana State News

Local shoppers have found themselves caught up in the hacking of personal information from credit card transactions at Target stores.

Last December, hackers gained unauthorized access to credit and debit card data and personal information for over 100 million Target shoppers nationwide. Bozeman resident Graham Kennedy said he’s more careful with finances after fraudulent charges related to the Target breach appeared on his bank statement.

“It did make me more conscious of checking my statements quite frequently, and to be much more careful with the usage of my card,” Kennedy said, adding that the fraudulent charges amounted to $82.78.

Kelsey Weyerbacher, a student at Montana State University, said she’s more vigilant since her bank alerted her to possible fraudulent activity on her debit card.

“My bank told me to look at every bank statement for the next year. I’m supposed to look for small charges and report them immediately.”

Weyerbacher learned from her bank that thieves make small transactions to see if the cardholder notices the activity. If nothing is reported, the thieves gradually charge larger amounts. Of the $82.78 stolen from Kennedy, several of the transactions were between 5 and 15 cents.

As more details about the malware become available, Kennedy says he’ll remain cautious.

“I am concerned that this will happen again, especially with all the technology.  But who knows?  It’s the risk we take with plastic.”

Sara Becker, a spokesperson for Billings-based First Interstate Bank, said the Target hack is unlike past data breaches.

“The bad people who are learning how to [compromise data] get smarter every year. There isn’t ever a copycat and they’re pretty sophisticated at what they can do.”

“We’re in a different world now, and you have to be more careful,” added Kim Piper, vice president of product development at First Interstate. “Even if you’re out to lunch and you leave your purse at the table for a moment, it only takes a second for someone to make a copy of your card.  You’d never know.”

Becker and Piper encourage customers to diligently check bank statements and shred all personal documents to protect against identity theft.

NBC News obtained a report filed with the Secret Service from computer firm iSIGHT, which discovered a type of malware responsible for the recent Target hack.

“The data breach was caused by a type of malware, similar to a computer virus, placed in a store’s point-of-sale systems,” the according to NBC.

The malware absorbs transaction information in the memory of the cash register system, according to the report.  The malware then unencrypts the credit card data through the authorization stage while it is in the memory of the point-of-sale system.

While the report explained how the malware works, it did not indicate who is responsible for the breach.

– Edited by Morgan Solomon

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