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Hannaford Brothers Company is an east coast grocery store chain serving millions of customers. Customers are being urged to check with their credit card and debit card companies this week after learning 4.2 Million numbers were stolen in a security breach. The data was not taken from a company database.

The supermarket chain, the Hannaford Brothers Company, said the data were exposed when shoppers swiped their cards and the information was transmitted to banks for approval. Thieves have commonly pilfered card data from databases maintained by merchants or card processors, but the Hannaford episode appears to be the first large-scale piracy of data in transit.

“Catching data on the move is a bit more challenging,” said Aaron Bills, chief operating officer at 3Delta Systems Inc., a transaction processing firm in Chantilly, Va. Mr. Bills compared it to robbing a truckload of merchandise, noting that it was easier when the vehicle was parked than when it was traveling.

The numbers were obtained between December 7, 2007 and March 10 of this year. Hannaford is investigating how the security breach happened. Around 1800 people have reported fraud on their credit & debit cards. Two class action lawsuits have already been filed.

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