Pennsylvania liquor stores guard against credit card theft |

Pennsylvania liquor stores guard against credit card theft

As shoppers hit state liquor stores to stock up for the holidays, employees will be watching for any attempts to steal credit card information or other data.

To keep 64.5 million annual transactions secure and to prevent breaches on its retail website,, the state Liquor Control Board must remain vigilant, officials said.

Data breaches at large retailers have garnered attention since last year when 1.1 million customers’ credit and debit card data were stolen from Neiman Marcus in October 2013, followed by about 98 million Target customers who had personal and/or payment information stolen during the holiday shopping season.

The LCB laid out details of its information technology security in its annual report this month. It was the first time the board has publicized attempted breaches to its website and the steps it takes to ensure transactions and operations remain secure.

“It’s important for organizations to talk about what they’re doing in security so others can see this is an important thing,” said Albert Whale, president and chief security officer at IT Security, a Ross-based computer protection company.

“We’re now accustomed to seeing organizations only discuss the breaches that occurred, not the prevention they’re employing. This goes to the credit of the LCB,” Whale said.

Liquor store workers are given brochures that explain how to detect suspicious behavior and tampering at point-of-sale registers, said Dan Trafton, chief information security officer for the LCB.

That training is reinforced for district and regional managers with more in-depth presentations, said Stacy Kriedeman, director of external affairs for the LCB.

Trafton declined to explain in detail how store registers could be compromised but said workers are taught to check security labels affixed to registers and other store devices to see if they’ve been broken or removed.

Generally, employees are on the lookout for key loggers and credit card skimmers, he said.

Key loggers — often small purple plastic devices that could be connected between a keyboard and computer — record every keystroke made on the device.

Credit card skimming requires an external device, sometimes installed atop legitimate card readers, that reads the magnetic strip on customers’ cards to steal data.

“Our store personnel are trained, and we realize that, humans being humans, they do try to do illegal activities,” Trafton said.

Beyond the stores, the LCB constantly monitors its public retail website.

More than 925,000 intrusions, or hacks, of varying severity were logged from November 2013 through June 30. An additional 1.2 million were repelled by the LCB’s software in that period, the annual report shows.

“That’s common to anyone with an e-commerce website,” Trafton said.

None of the intrusions impacted LCB operations or put customer data at risk, he said.

The LCB’s web server sits behind a sophisticated web application firewall maintained by the state for many of its agencies. The firewall monitors traffic to the website and shows its origin.

Most intrusions come from malware or bots, forms of automated hacking, with very few from individuals, Trafton said.

“One of our never-ending projects is to watch traffic as it comes in and fine-tune what is being blocked and what isn’t being blocked,” Trafton said.

If an intrusion gets through the firewall, it’s typically stopped by another layer of security built into the LCB’s retail website software.

A security breach is “something that is never 100 percent that we can say it will never happen,” said Mary Benner, the LCB’s chief information officer. “We have what we call defense in depth — many different layers of security in place that helps prevent that.”

Whale cautioned that not all breaches are detected immediately. Some hackers work gradually to gain access to higher and higher levels of a computer system while impacts don’t show up until much later.

“In the meantime, we think we’re repelling them while they’re getting (access),” Whale said.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].

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