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What the heck is a RAM scraper?

As the mystery around the credit card hacking at retail giants Target and Nieman Marcus continues to unfold, you're going to start hearing a lot about something called a "RAM scraper."

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel confirmed in an interview with CNBC (which is a partner of Re/code) that the source of the attack that has affected as many as 70 million of its customers was malware that was present on its point-of-sale systems. This disclosure came a day after a Reuters report that cited sources familiar with the investigation as identifying the type of malware involved as a RAM scraper.

So what the heck is a RAM scraper and how does it work? First it's helpful to remember that payment systems — the cash registers and credit card terminals you see in stores and restaurants every day — have a lot of strong requirements for encrypting data, pretty much end-to-end during the transaction process, as well as any records that are stored afterward.

Read the rest of the story on Recode.

By Arik Hesseldahl, recode.net.

CNBC's parent NBC Universal is an investor in re/code's parent Revere Digital, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.

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