As we enter Cybersecurity Awareness month, it’s an appropriate time to closely examine the specific security threats that retailers and hospitality providers face each and every day. In these industries, the overall “attack surface” is becoming dramatically more complex and hackers are more sophisticated than ever before. “Protect now or pay later” should be your watchword, as problems that exist today will only become worse as hackers continue to adapt to current security strategies.

Some of these threats have arisen due to changes in the hacker environment – for example, the emergence of the most recent ransomware attacks. Others are inevitably part of the transition to the digital age: As more information goes online, it is more vulnerable to certain types of threats. The challenge is to align networks, systems, and company cultures to support secure practices in this new arena while allowing your business to achieve – and offer to customers – the many efficiencies and benefits of digitization and automation.

Currently, we can identify the top five digital threats as follows:

Ransomware Rising

Like malware, ransomware is growing and spreading to mobile devices. Ransomware is a form of attack in which hackers lock up parts of the organization’s system and charge a ransom to release it. Unlike malware, ransomware makes it more difficult for the crook to get caught since they are not stealing credit card numbers or other sensitive data that has to be transacted upon to reap the rewards. Large retailers are becoming prime targets for ransomware, for if the hackers capture and encrypt enough sensitive data, companies are forced to pay significant ransom fees to get the data back. Reports show that many times after paying the ransom, the data is not retrievable and the company has lost the information regardless.

Mobile Madness

Smartphones are replacing the PC these days, and mobile malware is spreading quickly via the wireless network. High-demand consumer usage in stores along with employee usage in offices and distribution centers creates greater vulnerabilities, which are sprawling in scope and complexity. Smartphone penetration is making it harder to secure and manage Wi-Fi networks for guests and employees.

Infusion of IoT

Next-generation customer experiences leverage the “Internet of Things” to create convenience and satisfaction among shoppers – in other words, retailers are pursuing a digital transformation that relies on a network consisting of many different devices including your systems, in-store cameras, sensors, and the shoppers’ smartphones. However, the devices that connect consumers to networks also increase the number of customer touchpoints, integration intersections, and personal data that must be secured. Devices leveraging digitization also create a vulnerability that invades your mobile apps, websites, or beacons.

Gnarly Networks

If primary security measures are not being met within systems and network infrastructure, focusing on more sophisticated protection for advanced threats is throwing good money after bad. Securing the network from end-to-end has never been more crucial in today’s digital landscape. Retailers who continue to rely on outdated or end-of-life hardware, operating systems and software introduce the kind of security vulnerabilities that hackers love. Those who invest in PCI compliance and rigorous lifecycle management practices layered with best-in-class security solutions are the ones who sleep well at night.

Daunting Data

Storing and securing sensitive data drives up costs for retailers due to the increase in consumer-driven data analytics and transactions, and it continues to rise. The number of consumer touchpoints, from omnichannel outreach or a mobile app to the beacon or POS at the store level, increases your security vulnerabilities and demands to protect data privacy. As well, you can use customer data to achieve new insights from analytics that will help you to create a better customer experience.

The benefits of digitization – including cost savings, new revenue streams, improved customer services and experiences, better staff management, and much more – are many. However, security must be part of the transformation conversation, helping to protect both traditional data sources and the new ones that expand in your digital infrastructure. Over the next few months, I’ll address each of these important issues in more detail, discussing what you need to consider to put together a roadmap to secure your business.

What are the main security concerns among your store or property? Let me know in the comments below.

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Teresa Devine

Business Transformation Advisor

Retail & Hospitality