For retailers, the online market has seen tremendous growth over the last few years, to the extent that the online business often outstrips the brick-and-mortar store business. While online business is preferred by both, businesses and consumers alike, it comes with a huge risk attached – that of cyber security.
Cyber-attacks have suddenly become one of the top worries of online businesses. Ever since 2013-14, cyber-attacks, including information compromises, confidentiality breaches, DDoS and ransomware attacks are steadily rising. The Online Retail Industry is currently bearing the brunt of these attacks and threats, and the concern has spread to well beyond CIO-level.
It will not be an exaggeration to state that the retail industry might be nearly on the verge of collapse, due to these cyber threats.
There are many reasons why cyber criminals focus on retail industry. A few are listed below
- The Online Retail Industry thrives on being connected. But the public networks, i.e., the Internet that connects them to their customers is a network that was designed to share information, and not protect The Internet is a free-for-all wagon that all can hop on to, and with the Open Standards on which it operates, there are considerable possibilities for malicious elements to launch attacks through both, well-known and little-known vulnerabilities.
- An enormous amount of cyber risk arises from human factors. In the retail industry, these human factors may not always be controllable, as it employs a large number of low-skilled workforce with high attrition rates, and also has a considerable amount of third party interfacing through the supply chain.
- The retail industry employs a large number of devices like RFID tags and IOT devices for its aid. These devices are very susceptible to cyber-attacks. So, the very mechanism employed to aid the industry becomes its vulnerability.
- The risk to retail industry is not just about business continuity but also about confidential customer information like credit card details and other personally identifiable information. Data breaches can cost the company huge losses through law suits and erosion of customer
Having seen some of the major reasons for the cyber-attacks on the retailers, let us look at the sources of the attacks. Research has shown that merely 3% of the threats come from internal sources, whereas a whopping 83% come from external threats, most of whom are opportunistic hackers. The main opportunities for the attackers include:
- End users downloading infected files from email
- Users accessing malware-laden websites or
- Weak passwords and other security measures
- IT department slow to upgrade configurations and install latest patches
- Poor network security
For retailers, tackling the menace of cyber threats boils down to managing all the above factors to prevent from attacks and also minimize impact in case of a breach.
Some of the recommendations for retailers to protect their assets are listed below:
- Become PCI compliant – PCI stands for Payment Card Industry, and the PCI Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) help businesses process card payments securely. Accepting credit cards is a necessity for today’s retailers, whether they conduct business through brick-and-mortar stores or e-commerce websites. Being PCI compliant ensures that a standard security framework is applied throughout all the retailer’s systems that handle critical customer data. With the help of tokenization technique, data can be protected against malicious activities and theft.
- Employing smart BYOD policies – Bring Your Own Device has become an important part of employee satisfaction. However, these end points are a source of cyber threats. By properly managing the end points with the appropriate controls, the threat emanating from them can be minimized.
- Establishing a comprehensive security policy and educating users – The adage of prevention is better than cure holds true for all industries including retailers, especially when we talk about cyber security. Establishing sound policies and educating employees about safe practices is a step towards cyber threat prevention.
- Managing IoT based threats – Today, retailers use many IoT devices to transform their customer experience. These devices range from smart monitors that track and monitor the merchandise across the supply chain, smart shelves that track the merchandise availability and trigger automatic replenishment, smart sensors that help maintain merchandise quality, and so on. While these devices are invaluable to the retailers, they are also highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and appropriate measures must be employed to protect them.
- Using state of the art security tools – Investing into superior quality security tools and frameworks from reputable vendors can help reduce the risk for retailers. As an example, end point security products from Seqrite (seqrite.com) helps in protecting user machines and IoT end point devices from malware, and also secure network perimeter through firewall and IDS mechanisms.
The retail industry is in a vulnerable state and is a target for attacks by organized cyber criminals as well as opportunistic hackers. Protecting their own operations, as well as the critical information of their customers is crucial for them. It is essential that retailers make use of well-established security practices, frameworks, and standards to safeguard their customer’s data and their business operations.