How Retailers Can Still Improve Security before Black Friday

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November 17, 2014 - IT Briefcase | Jared Schemanski, Nuspire Networks

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Each year, retailers hustle and strain to get their online and in-store merchandise ready to entice shoppers for the annual Black Friday rush. Their main concern, of course, is whether this season’s merchandise will prove popular. But what might get overlooked, is whether they’ve done enough to ward off the worst kind of shopper: the Cyber Hacker — who preys on stores at peak holiday season and can cause serious financial and reputational damage.

It’s easy for retailers to get distracted by the shopping demand, but that is exactly what cybercriminals are hoping for. In the 2013 fourth quarter, the critical shopping season, retailers comprised more than half the reported data breaches, which accounted for 116 million records compromised.[1] Further, Gartner consultants predict a 10 percent growth in the financial impact that cybercrime will have on online businesses through 2016.

While it’s too late for retailers to create and implement a new IT security system for this holiday shopping season, there are best practices IT teams can adopt to ensure their current systems are able to handle the holiday madness. These include:

- Being prepared for the increased system traffic and evaluating whether or not your systems can handle the additional traffic flow. If using cloud-based services, simply add capacity prior to the holidays to prevent a site crash.

- If no managed security monitoring is in place, the next best step is to ensure all anti-malware and other security software applications are installed, updated and ready to do their job. While this action may seem obvious, it often goes overlooked. It’s important to remember these applications act as one more obstacle hackers will have to surpass to infiltrate retailers’ IT systems.

- Help educate front-line employees on additional security steps needed with customers. For example, ensure in-store clerks and online systems cross check addresses in the verification system with the credit card verification values, to see if they match. This involves checking the 3-or-4 digit security code near the card’s signature panel or, for American Express card, on the top right side of the front of the card. Also, check the signature itself on the card to see if it corresponds to the signature on a driver’s license—be especially wary of dirty or smudged signatures.

- Train employees to surf the net safely if they do their own online shopping during breaks and the like. Train them to only use secure search engines, and be aware of the methods that hackers use to invade a data network. Many hackers try to take advantage of employee network access and employees must be able to spot mischievous content that can harm an IT infrastructure.

- Allow employee access to only trusted websites by applying the firewall system filter to reject unknown or questionable domains.

- Apply a related measure – application whitelisting – that grants permission to use only approved apps. When an app is executed, it’s checked automatically against the approved app list. An integrity check monitor that’s added to the system can make certain that deployed apps are trusted, and not foreign to the network.

- Reinforce the importance that IT professionals stay alert and monitor the networks to catch any threatening signs of cyber mischief, and secure the tools to contain a breach if it occurs. In a related move, limit exposure to potential malware by segmenting the networks so hackers can’t access what they are rally eager to grab: customer financial data.

- Do some intelligence gathering to learn of retail attacks elsewhere. If hackers entered other retailers’ systems through certain applications or entryways, this can be a good indicator of how they plan to target additional stores. Having this background can help close off vulnerable entryways before they are threatened.

- Don’t ignore correcting a severe vulnerability found if a “network freeze” has begun. Network freezes are put into place so no changes of any type can be made to a network and system components or apps operations until mid-January to avoid triggering downtime. Hackers might catch wind of the freeze, and see it as their opportunity to lurk in the system undetected.

With better security-educated retailers, Black Friday and Cyber Monday might have a chance to be proverbial red letter days, filled with shoppers’ receipts and devoid of data breaches.