Security breach hits U.S. card processors, banks

Fri Mar 30, 2012 7:39pm EDT
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By Lauren Tara LaCapra and Carrick Mollenkamp

(Reuters) - Four giant card-payment processors and large U.S. banks that issue debit and credit cards were hit by a data-security breach after third-party services provider Global Payments Inc discovered its systems were compromised by unauthorized access.

It was not immediately clear how many cardholders became victims of the breach, which affected MasterCard Inc, Visa Inc, American Express Co and Discover Financial Services, as well as banks and other franchises that issue cards bearing their logos.

U.S. law enforcement authorities including the Secret Service are investigating and MasterCard said it has hired an independent data-security organization to review the incident.

The shares of Atlanta-based Global Payments, which acts as a credit-checking middleman between merchants and card processors, were halted on Friday afternoon after dropping more than 9 percent on the news.

MasterCard shares fell 1.8 percent to close at $420.54, Visa shares dropped 0.8 percent to $118, American Express shares fell 0.1 percent to $57.86, while Discover rose 1.2 percent to $33.34.

Analysts said any financial losses from the data breach would be shouldered by merchants, card issuers and Global Payments rather than Visa or Mastercard, which operate payment networks.

Global Payments said it determined that an unauthorized entity had accessed its systems and possible customer card data in early March. Krebs on Security, a blog that first reported the incident on Friday, said accounts had been compromised for over a month, between January 21, 2012 and February 25, 2012.

Global Payments is holding an investor conference call Monday morning to discuss the issue.   Continued...

A MasterCard logo is seen on a door outside a restaurant in New York in this February 3, 2010 file photo. MasterCard Inc is investigating a potential security breach related to a third-party vendor and has alerted banks and law enforcement officials, the company said on March 30, 2012. The credit-card processor said the issue involves a company based in the U.S. and is also being reviewed by an independent data-security organization. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files