Target had early warnings of the security breach but failed to act

Target's (NYSE: TGT) security software had early warnings of potentially malicious activity during December's massive data breach, but decided not to take immediate action, the company said on Thursday.

"With the benefit of hindsight, we are investigating whether if different judgments had been made the outcome may have been different," company spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in a statement.

The early warnings came from Target's own $1.6 million security system called FireEye, which was created by the CIA, reports TIME. FireEye allegedly sent alerts to Target but the notifications went without any response. The experts said that they believed it was likely that Target's security team received hundreds of such alerts on a daily basis. If Target's security team had taken action after the earliest FireEye alerts, it could have thwarted the cyber attack.

According to Target, however, these alerts didn't go unnoticed and after an internal investigation, the alerts were not thought of as anything serious.

"Through our investigation, we learned that after these criminals entered our network, a small amount of their activity was logged and surfaced to our team. That activity was evaluated and acted upon," Snyder said. "Based on their interpretation and evaluation of that activity, the team determined that it did not warrant immediate follow up."

Target previously indicated it was unaware of the breach until mid-December, when the company closed a loophole in its network and notified law enforcement and financial institutions. The breach affected customers who shopped at Target from Nov. 27 until Dec. 18. Some 40 million payment card records were stolen from the retailer, along with 70 million records with customer information such as addresses and telephone numbers.

Last month, Target reported a 46 percent decline in its fourth-quarter profit, as costs related to the breach weighed on the retailer's earnings. Target was hit with $61 million in quarterly expenses from the breach.

In the wake of Target's security breach, several other companies have also had data scares including Neiman Marcus and Sears. Most recently, U.K. grocer Morrisons came under attack when personal information from about 100,000 of its employees was leaked by an insider and posted on the Internet. The information included names, addresses and bank account details of staffers from all levels of the organization.

Police and security officials are conducting an urgent review of Morrisons' internal data security systems and it has set up a helpline for its staff.

For more:
-See this TIME article
-See this BBC News article
-See this Reuters article

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