Hackers pinpoint card weaknesses

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The Independent Online
BARCLAYS BANK executives in Germany were forced to admit yesterday that young hackers had made a fool of their credit card computer system.

According to Hans-Hermann Schrader, the official responsible for the Protection of Information regulations in the state of Hamburg, where the 'crime' took place, the bank's computer security was 'totally unsatisfactory'.

For the past few months, a group of youths in Hamburg have been drawing out information about individual Visa and Eurocard owners, including their credit ratings, in order to show how easily such allegedly confidential information can be had.

Even worse for the bank, which has been running a massive advertising campaign in Germany for its offer of both main credit cards for the price of one, officials still cannot tell from the voice-mail computer records that anything was amiss. It was only after hearing tapes on television, with client voices on them, that Barclays officials conceded that all was not as it should be.

The special voice-mail computer was used by clients confirming that they had received their cards, at which point they provided their personal numbers, and by those requesting a credit limit increase. The information was recorded, not on normal tape, but digitally by a computer, and the information was later decoded by bank staff. According to Rolf Wordemann, a member of Germany's main hacker organisation, the Hamburg Chaos Computer Club, voice-mail computers such as the one at Barclays are as 'easy to break as a bicycle lock'.

Rather than prosecute, Barclays officials are hoping that the hackers will be willing to cooperate, so that the bank can find out just how bad things are, and who needs new credit cards. The fact that the enterprising youths also managed, once they had accessed Barclays' computer system, to make lengthy international telephone calls at the bank's expense, will be quietly forgotten.