Patrons who used a credit or debit card at an Affinity Gaming casino or hotel within the past nine months might want to double check their credit card statements. A security breach was recently reported by the company, which owns casinos in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and Missouri. Between the dates of March 14th and October 16th, a cyber attack on the company's digital data system compromised the safety of patrons' financial information at eleven Affinity Gaming properties, including both casinos and hotels. Affinity Gaming has reassured the public that there is currently no threat to the security of patrons who visit their sites, but concern remains for those patrons who inadvertently put themselves at risk between the aforementioned dates.
Upon discovery of the security breach, the company publicly warned patrons of the occurrence on its website. A toll-free help line was also established for anyone concerned about the safety of their financial information. The FBI and the Las Vegas police continue to conduct a criminal investigation, but no concrete information has been released to the public as of yet. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has not released an official statement, either. All that is known for certain is that malware is to blame for the breach and that some credit and debit card holders remain vulnerable.
Target Corporation: A Similar Story
Affinity Gaming's announcement came just days after the Target Corporation revealed a similar breach affecting approximately 40 million credit and debit cards used at its chain of retail stores. Unlike the Affinity situation, however, there has been some public speculation as to the nature of the Target crime. Avivah Litan, a public security expert with Gartner Research, remarked that the crime may very well have been an “inside job” due to the highly complex security measures practiced by the corporation. Target's breach occurred between the dates of November 27th and December 15th.
How Casinos Guard Against Fraud and Other Crimes
In light of these recent security breaches, casino lovers may feel some trepidation when handing over their credit and debit card information to a gambling organization. While a certain amount of “gambler's paranoia” is understandable, patrons should remember that casinos typically take their security very seriously. Many casinos use highly sophisticated cameras, software, and data mining practices which help them safeguard against the type of crimes which affected Affinity Gaming and Target customers.
NORA Data Mining Software
Sophisticated software measuring “non-obvious relationship awareness” (NORA) was created specifically for the casino industry, according to Jeff Jonas of Systems Research & Development. Through detailed data collection, NORA software is able to detect relationships between seemingly unaffiliated people that might not otherwise be noticeable. A slot machine jackpot winner who is distantly related to a casino employee, for example, would be noticed by NORA software and an alert would be created regarding the employee and the winner. The relationship between the employee and the winner could be an honest one, or it could not. NORA simply raises a red flag when a relationship seems suspicious, leading officials to investigate it further.
The data-mining NORA software is so thorough and effective that U.S. Homeland Security officials now use it to help them find out about under-the-radar terrorist affiliations. NORA is so helpful that some banks and insurance companies also use the software, according to Jonas. With the help of the software, obscure information becomes transparent and criminals find it increasingly difficult to hide themselves and their unlawful activities.
Another highly sophisticated casino security product is TableEye21. Through the use of overhead video cameras, digitally embedded casino chips, and other video surveillance equipment, this software monitors blackjack players' skill level and collects data which allows casinos to analyze which strategies individual players tend to use. By anticipating certain behaviors before they occur, TableEye21 enables the house to maintain an edge over skilled players as well as cheaters. Look at the video to see it in action.
Online Casino Security Measures
Entrusting an online site with valuable credit and debit card information might feel even more risky to some gamers than wagering money in a brick-and-mortar casino. Thankfully, online gaming sites employ security measures which protect the integrity of their patrons' financial information. One of the most effective ways online casinos do this is through data encryption protocols, an extra-safety measure in the online casino banking process, used by the most trusted companies.
Data Encryption Protocols
Many online casinos use something called 256 Bit SSL Encryption to protect their patrons' financial data. An SSL, otherwise known as a "Secure Socket Layer Data Encryption Code," takes all data transmitted to and from online casinos and converts it to a code so that third parties cannot recognize it. The only person or persons able to “crack” the code are those who were officially designated to receive patrons' financial information in the first place.
Other Privacy Protection Measures
Online sites usually use firewalls to protect their databases from unwanted infiltration. A firewall is literally a wall that prevents the spread of a fire. In digital terms, it is hardware and/or software that prevents the infiltration of unwanted malware on a person's computer. Online gaming sites also usually assign a pin number and/or password and login name. These unique pieces of data help prevent scammers from logging on under a false name or doing other dishonest things which compromise the integrity of the site.
Both online and on land, it is in a casino's best interest to protect the private financial information of its patrons. When a security breach occurs, such as the one that recently affected Affinity Gaming, it unfortunately leaves patrons with a bad taste in their mouths. Even when a breach is not the fault of a company, people by nature are more reluctant to return to a business where their sensitive financial information has been compromised.
As Affinity Gaming patrons and Target customers recover from these recent security breaches, awareness of this type of digital crime will grow. In turn, heightened awareness will hopefully lead to better prevention against future digital crimes.