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POS security vulnerabilities for retail industry

One of the most publicized POS breaches happened with American retailer, Target in 2013 where 41 million customer payment card accounts and contact information for more than 60 million Target customers were affected.

Seqrite Aug 08th 2018

To have a look at how far technology has progressed, take a look at the simple art of shopping. What was, even a few years back, a simple matter of going to a brick-and-mortar shop, choosing an item and handing a shop-owner some notes of cash has transformed. Today, customers search for products they want online and pay digitally through POS devices.

Of course, retailers are also keen to cash in on the competitive retail landscape and ensure customers can easily swipe their cards for purchases. But many retailers are also slowly becoming aware of the cybersecurity risks that POS devices possess. One of the most publicized POS breaches happened with American retailer, Target in 2013 where 41 million customer payment card accounts and contact information for more than 60 million Target customers were affected. The company had to pay a $18.5 million multistate settlement in 2017. More recently, it was discovered that a security flaw in Oracle Micros’ POS systems could affect over 300,000 systems.

High Stakes

One of the reasons why POS systems have a high security risk is the high stakes involved. These systems collect data for hundreds or thousands of transactions every single day, making it a veritable gold mine for hackers. This data can be extremely valuable for a hacker on the deep web and hence, hackers will target POS systems more than others for the sheer amount of value they can get, compared to other systems.

These systems are also more vulnerable to malware because of the very nature of they are used. As a tool which is used extremely regularly, network administrators do not get the time to ensure that the correct updates and patches are run on the system, making it vulnerable to new vulnerabilities. Once a POS system is infiltrated by malware, it can silently run in the background collecting information for every transaction running through it.

Another major security risk with POS systems is a lack of encryption. Unencrypted data is that much easier to get breached and many rudimental POS systems do not have encryption tools. It is important to use an encryption solution that offers end-to-end encryption which protects credit card data. Hence even if malware is installed on the system or hackers take advantage of a back door or vulnerability, the data is still safe because it remains encrypted.

What can companies do?

Companies must guard against POS breaches because it also affects their brand and reputation. This can lead to lower sales and a negative association with the company by customers, something which no retailer can afford. Some of the steps they can take are:

  • Physical surveillance which involves which keeping a close eye on the POS devices used and ensuring there is no physical tampering being done. This also includes using devices that are compliant with the latest security standards.
  • Investing in security by following some basic hygiene checks: keeping all software updated with the latest patches installed, using an anti-virus and implementing application control to block unauthorized programs from running.
  • Creating strong passwords. This is a part of the basic hygiene check mentioned above but is very important in its own right. Ensuring that strong passwords are chosen which cannot be easily cracked and having multi-factor authentication is important.
  • Comply with norms regarding customer data. Following the norms regarding compliance with customer data can go a long way in safeguarding customer data. Every retailer should have policies outlined about how they are dealing with customer data, when it is being deleted and how long it is being kept for.