Five months. That's how long it took Home Depot (HD) to realize -- or at least acknowledge -- that 56 million credit cards used at the retailer may have been compromised in a breach of its computer network.
"This is a huge bungle by Home Depot," says Yahoo Finance's Jeff Macke.
And it's the largest known malware attack at any retailer -- larger than the 40 million cards affected by Target's breach during the holiday season. Hackers have also attacked the computer networks of Neiman Marcus, which took months before reporting the breach, Michael's (MIK), UPS (UPS) and Goodwill. At this point it's not known exactly how many credit cards used at Home Depot were actually hit with fraudulent charges, only how many have been compromised.
Home Depot's CEO Frank Blake, in a statement, apologized to customers "for the inconvenience and anxiety this has caused" and tried to "reassure them that they will not be liable for fraudulent charges."
"That's just corporate mumble jumble," says Macke. "It's more than an inconvenience ... it's a huge, ridiculous hassle."
And the reassurance from Blake is no skin off Home Depot's back since most credit card companies do not hold customers liable for charges when their account number is stolen.
"We need an upgrade of the whole cycle," says Macke. Embedding credit cards with microchips to replace the current magnetic strip technology is the most popular type of upgrade available now.
The chip-based technology, known as EMV for Europay MasterCard and Visa, is used in Europe, and makes it more difficult for thieves to use stolen account information for purchases or for making new counterfeit cards. The chip generates a one-time authorization code for each purchase. Then a customer has to key in a pin number into a retailer's credit card reader. This technology is considered more secure than the magnetic stripe technology.
Home Depot says it uses EMV in Canada and will start to introduce it in the U.S. state late this year.
Apple Pay, based on EMV technology, is included in Apple's (AAPL) latest iPhone 6 models, and functions like a digital wallet, with several credit card accounts on one phone. But Macke says it doesn't answer all of his security questions.
Maybe the solution is a lot simpler than chip-embedded credit cards or phones. "You can pay with cash," says Aaron Task, editor-in-chief of Yahoo FInance. "It's secure, isn't it?" As long as your wallet isn't stolen.
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