The card-skimming malware used to steal the credit card data of up to 110 million Target customers was "off-the-shelf" malware created by a 17 year-old Russian programmer from St Petersburg, US security analyst IntelCrawler has claimed.
It's a development that will heap more shame on Target, not because of the author's youth but because the malware in question, BlackPOS, was apparently discovered as far back as March 2013 by IntelCrawler's CEO Andrew Komarov when he worked for a previous firm.
Originally called 'Kaptoxa' (Russian slang for potato), Intel Crawler believes that the malware was being widely sold among cybercriminals in Eastern Europe under more than one name after which it was used to infect point-of-sale terminals in the US, Canada and Australia. The going rate was $2,000 or a share of the sale of any cards subsequently stolen using it.
Worst still, IntelCrawler claims that information on BackPOS was shared with Visa and some US banks. If true, this raises some hard questions about the effectiveness of threat sharing in the US business sector.
Although new malware appears all the time, point-of-sale malware is considered among the most significant threats, not least because the of the fact that it has been reported as a major area of interest for criminals for some time.
As to the author, IntelCrawler names him as 'ree', a multi-talented Russian cybercriminal and author of a range of hacking tools, including BlackPOS itself. The firm even tracked down his real name complete with photographs of the alleged culprit.
It is not clear that this individual has any direct connection to the actual Target attack, IntelCrawler added.
"He is still visible for us, but the real bad actors responsible for the past attacks on retailers such as Target and Neiman Marcus were just his customers", said the firm's president, Dan Clements.
Because the malware had been used in a series of attacks since in the US its appearance (including, reports say, the Neiman Marcus department store), this implied that more could be detected in the coming weeks or months.
"Most of the victims are department stores. More BlackPOS infections, as well as new breaches can appear very soon, retailers and security community should be prepared for them," added IntelCrawler's Komarov.
The Target attack has already been described as a 'wakeup call' for the industry although why the industry should need a wakeup call to defend point-of-sale systems is a mystery. Announced earlier this month, the number of affected customers still isn't clear but estimates range from 70 million to 110 million.
This is not the first time a high-profile malware author's face has appeared in public in recent weeks. In December the author of the prominent Blackhole Exploit Kit used in many phishing attacks in recent years was unmasked by Russian security firm Group-IB.