"Backoff" computer virus hits Dairy Queen, could mean thousands of credit cards at risk

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Busted by the "Backoff" virus

Hackers are coming for your credit card info again. This time, they're coming by way of burgers and Blizzards.

After breaching the cyber security systems of companies like Target, Jimmy John's and, most recently, SuperValu, the auspicious-sounding "Backoff" malware virus has hit Minnesota-based Dairy Queen. It's an unsettling development. It's another cyber break-in, another chance at stolen credit or debit card numbers. As of now, the damage is still unknown.

See also: Target CEO Greg Steinhafel apologizes for losing your credit card info

According to cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs, who first reported on the breach on Tuesday, the situation's bad, but it's probably not catostrophic. This isn't a Target situation, which saw 40 million credit and debit cards stolen. Dairy Queens are different. Most are run independently, so there's not as much risk of a huge, company-wide breach.

But there's a flip side, too. Because there are so many unique locations, it may take months before the company even knows how many stores were breached and had information stolen.

We don't yet know how Minnesota fits into all of this yet. Dairy Queen is headquartered here and has loads of locations in the state, but if we're lucky, we may actually get out of this unscathed. Krebs reports that credits cards in nearby states like Illinois and Indiana have already been hit from the DQ breach. But Minneapolis -- for now, at least -- is safe.

For their part, Dairy Queen isn't saying much. Dean Peters, the head of communications for Dairy Queen, acknowledged in a statement that the company's franchises were at risk from the virus, but it's still investigating.

Gopal Khanna, an IT expert and Minnesota's first Chief Information Officer, says we still outght to be plenty concerned. Even if each Dairy Queen franchise is something like a "mom and pop" store, the whole operation could still be at risk. It's a consequence of living in a fully connected world.

"We cannot look at any one piece of the link anymore," Khanna says. "Any link can bring down the supply chain."

Just ten or twenty years ago, Khanna says, controlling a breach would have been easy. The important info -- card numbers, names, addresses -- could be protected, unplugged or locked up in a safe. But in the new, connected "cyber marketplace," that's all changed. The barriers are falling.

So far, we've seen the virus hit Target. We've seen it hit Supervalu. Now Dairy Queen. But this probably isn't the end for "Backoff". According to an alert from the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service is estimating that over 1,000 businesses could be affected.

So hold on tight to your credit card and hope for the best. We're in a new age of the internet, one where only a few lines of code may protect you from attacks that are only getting bigger and more complicated.

"It's like the badlands or the Wild West," Khanna says. "No rules."

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.

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