Visa: New payment-processor data breach not so new after all

Company says recent breach alerts involved ongoing probe of earlier system intrusion

Days after Visa seemingly confirmed that a data breach had taken place at a third payment processor, following on the recent breach disclosures by Heartland Payment Systems and RBS WorldPay, the credit card company now is saying that there was no new security incident after all.

In actuality, Visa said in a statement issued Friday, alerts that it sent recently to banks and credit unions warning them about a compromise at a payment processor were related to the ongoing investigation of a previously known breach. However, Visa still didn't disclose the identity of the breached company, nor say why it is continuing to keep the name under wraps.

Visa said that it had sent lists of credit and debit card numbers found to have been compromised as part of the investigation to financial institutions "so they can take steps to protect consumers." It added that it currently "is risk-scoring all transactions in real-time, helping card issuers better distinguish fraudulent transactions from legitimate ones."

Visa's latest statement follows ones issued by both it and MasterCard International earlier this week in response to questions about breach notices that had been posted by several credit unions and banking associations. The notices made it clear that they weren't referring to the system intrusion disclosed by Heartland on January 20 and suggested that a new breach had occurred.

Visa's initial statement, and the one from MasterCard, were both carefully worded; neither said specifically that the breach being referred to was a new one, but they also didn't say that it was a previously disclosed incident. Visa said it was "aware that a processor has experienced a compromise of payment card account information from its systems," while MasterCard said it had notified card issuers of a "potential security breach" affecting a payment processor in the US.

MasterCard officials didn't respond Friday to requests seeking clarification on whether its statement referred to a previous breach or a new one.

Benson Bolling, vice president of lending at the Alabama Credit Union, said Friday that officials there had understood the breach to be a new one based on the alerts sent out by Visa - but couldn't say that for sure. According to Bolling, the credit union, which posted an advisory on February 17 and updated it two days later, was informed by Visa of a "big breach" shortly after getting the word about the intrusion at Heartland.

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Jaikumar Vijayan

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