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Hopefully We Will Find Out Strong Encryption or Tokenization Was in Place…

In the days and weeks ahead we’ll learn more about what safeguards Target had in place

Like millions of other Americans, I learned the other night about the massive data breach at Target. The Washington Post is reporting that sensitive details on over 40 million credit and debit cards were exposed. While the information associated with the crime is still coming out, the implications of this breach could be enormous.

Forrester's John Kindervag was quoted in the Washington Post article I read saying that "whatever money Target thought they were going to see the holiday season just got flushed down the data breach toilet." The costs they potentially face include everything from fines, reimbursement to the major card schemes (Visa, MasterCard, American Express), legal fees, system and infrastructure costs to bolster security (once they determine what went wrong) and, perhaps most significantly, brand and reputation damage that could very well impact their top line.

I spent many years of my career in the payment services space, helping major retailers deploy encryption and tokenization solutions within their online and in-store payment infrastructures to bolster security and to help achieve compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). As a result of this work, I am keenly familiar with how far and wide these payment networks spread and how broadly the data is shared within internal and external systems (it's unbelievable where the card details show up). By deploying encryption and tokenization solutions (which "masked" the parts of the card data that would make it usable by criminals but still made it functional within corporate and cloud software systems), we were able to reduce the footprint of where this data flowed in the clear by as much as 90% (dramatically reducing the "scope" of the required compliance requirements within the PCI DSS mandates for many retailers). Some of the solutions we used actually deployed encryption at the read-head of the payment terminal in the store (right at the swipe!). Pretty advanced stuff, but it helped to deliver on an end-to-end encryption proposition that put major retailers in complete control of who could have access to the information and who could not (because they had ownership of the encryption keys).

These days I help companies with these sorts of data "control" solutions, but in an analogous space. With the adoption of the public cloud by enterprises, IT and security managers now have yet another set of "IT spaces" where sensitive data (payment card data, healthcare data, banking data, etc.) can flow. It is not just feasible to block the data from moving to the cloud in its entirety, because some of these cloud systems, like cloud-based customer support systems, need to have access to some aspects of "sensitive" data in order for users of these systems to do their jobs. So, in many ways, encryption and tokenization solutions for the cloud need to be smarter than the systems I used to work with. They need to not interfere with the operation of the cloud systems while still safeguarding the information that needs to be accessible via these systems for the enterprise. A few critical capabilities to look for include:

  • Ensure that strong, well vetted encryption and/or tokenization solutions are used (look for solutions that have been audited by accredited third parties)
  • The enterprise needs to maintain control of any and all encryption keys and/or the token vault (if tokenization is used)
  • Look for solutions that allow you to swap or change encryption modules over time (in case your organization loses faith in the integrity of one particular algorithm)
  • Make sure these encryption/tokenization solutions do not interfere with the important aspects of the cloud systems that enterprise end users depend on (such as being able to search on names, account numbers, the last 4 digits, etc.)

In the days and weeks ahead we'll learn more about what safeguards Target had in place. In the Post article, Avivah Litan from Forrester commented that Target had made significant investments in security. Let's hope (for their sake and for the sake of millions of impacted shoppers) that strong encryption/tokenization was in place and the information, although it is in the criminals hands, has been rendered useless...

Read the original blog entry...


PerspecSys Inc. is a leading provider of cloud protection and cloud encryption solutions that enable mission-critical cloud applications to be adopted throughout the enterprise. Cloud security companies like PerspecSys remove the technical, legal and financial risks of placing sensitive company data in the cloud. PerspecSys accomplishes this for many large, heavily regulated companies across the world by never allowing sensitive data to leave a customer's network, while maintaining the functionality of cloud applications. For more information please visit / or follow on Twitter @perspecsys.

More Stories By Gerry Grealish

Gerry Grealish is Vice President, Marketing & Products, at PerspecSys. He is responsible for defining and executing PerspecSys’ marketing vision and driving revenue growth through strategic market expansion and new product development. Previously, he ran Product Marketing for the TNS Payments Division, helping create the marketing and product strategy for its cloud-based payment gateway and tokenization/encryption security solutions. He has held senior marketing and leadership roles for venture-backed startups as well as F500 companies, and his industry experience includes enterprise analytical software, payment processing and security services, and marketing and credit risk decisioning platforms.

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