The retail sector has truly embraced digital transformation, introducing various technologies to enhance the consumer buying experience. From digital payment systems to e-commerce platforms, these innovations bring convenience, choice, and speed.

However, there seems to be a gap in addressing the cyberthreats that accompany these advancements, potentially hindering retailers from realizing the full potential of their technological investments.

According to Forrester‘s recent Security Survey, security leaders in retail and wholesale companies reported an average of 6.8 breaches in the past year, compared to 3.4 times in 2022. One of the highlighted challenges is the shortage of chief information security officers and security staff in the retail industry compared to other sectors.

However, addressing these challenges is no easy feat.

Retailers should recognise the urgency of allocating sufficient resources specifically to cybersecurity. Striking a balance between brand recognition and cybersecurity investments is crucial for overall business resilience. Take Clorox, for example. They faced a cyberattack that disrupted their IT infrastructure, leading to manual order processing and a subsequent decrease in quarterly profits. It’s a stark reminder that a single cyberattack can tarnish hard-earned brand recognition.

One major reason behind many cyberattacks is that retailers often have blind spots when it comes to understanding their vulnerabilities. Conducting a thorough risk assessment can help identify potential weaknesses in systems. Once these risks are identified, targeted measures can be implemented to mitigate threats and enhance overall security.

Retailers should learn from past incidents, refine response strategies, and conduct regular drills for an efficient and effective response in the event of a cybersecurity breach. In the event of a cybersecurity breach, having a well-defined incident response plan is essential.

The broader supply chain at risk

The retail sector handles vast amount of sensitive customer data, such as payment information and personal details making them prime targets – it’s like catnip for cybercriminals out for a financial score. Therefore, while it’s true that the technology requirements and investments can vary based on the size of retail establishments, the real deal is that the level of risk goes beyond just where they sit in the distribution chain.

Supply chains are like a web. Their interconnected nature means that a breach at any point could have repercussions throughout the entire system. So, even if a retail shop is at the end of the chain, a cyberattack might start its mischief way before that – in some earlier link. A hiccup there can spiral into trouble for the entire system, putting the security of retail spots at risk. Moreover, retailers also collaborate with various third-party vendors, suppliers, and service providers. They bring their own set of cybersecurity risks to the party, adding another layer of complexity.

One cannot neglect the fact that retail lives and breathes on consumer trust. People want their information kept safe, and any breach can shake that trust to its core. Failure to protect data can be a huge blow to brand loyalty and can also cause legal risks, exposing the establishment to penalties and further reputational damage.

Retailers need to recognise the intrinsic value of the data they handle, beef up their cybersecurity measures, and collaborate with the broader supply chain to collectively enhance the overall security posture.

Striking a balance between cybersecurity and customer experience

When days get busy, a significant portion of the workforce tends to put cybersecurity practices on the back burner and prioritise getting work done. Balancing cybersecurity and keeping customers happy is a delicate balancing act. However, with the right tools, retailers can achieve this equilibrium without compromising on security.

One significant approach is the implementation of automation, particularly in critical security processes such as threat detection, system updates, and real-time monitoring. This not only enhances operational efficiency but also allows the workforce to dedicate more time and attention to delivering an efficient customer experience.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers have a range of tools at their disposal, including digital signage, IoT-enabled stores, cloud connectivity, mobile POS systems, NFC technology, and analytics, offering substantial potential. However, to fully harness the benefits of these technologies, retailers must establish a foundation of trust with customers concerning payment security and data privacy. Achieving this trust involves transparent communication, robust security measures, and the use of analytics to personalise the shopping experience.

Above all, seamless integration of technology and dedicated cybersecurity software is essential. This cohesive approach not only fortifies overall security but also establishes a positive and secure business environment. Taking a proactive stance towards cybersecurity, coupled with strategic technological enhancements, will allow businesses to navigate through the retail hustle successfully without compromising the integrity of security measures.

Advancements in UEM tools and technologies

In retail, the attack surface is massive. Retailers deploy a variety of connected assets, including smart displays and sensors, to improve customer service and optimise inventory management. Sometimes, these systems extend their connections to direct suppliers, broadening the attack surface even further. With so many connected devices, it’s easier to lose oversight, leaving retailers susceptible to attacks. The challenge here is simple: you can’t protect what you can’t see, and the use of disparate technologies only complicates the oversight process.

Unified endpoint management tools bring centralised control and visibility over all devices within the retail network, providing a holistic view of the entire ecosystem. Moreover, most UEM tools have the capacity to automate security patching and updates across all endpoints. This ensures that devices are consistently up to date with the latest security features, minimising vulnerabilities and enhancing overall cybersecurity.

When it comes to retail, on-site management is a challenge. The remote capabilities of UEM tools enable IT admins to troubleshoot issues and address security concerns without requiring physical access to the devices. In addition to this, solutions like Hexnode facilitate the deployment, management, and security of both in-house and third-party apps.

Retailers can mandate specific apps to be pushed to all devices, while simultaneously blacklisting potentially harmful apps to thwart installation on managed devices. Moreover, devices can be compelled to operate in a single app or Kiosk mode, effectively locking them to a specific app and preventing users from straying beyond the defined app environment.

Compliance is a big deal and UEM solutions bring an added layer of assurance by implementing encryption features both in transit and at rest. This move significantly reduces the risk of data breaches, ensuring retail businesses stay in line with multiple regulatory requirements.

Integration into existing frameworks

When diving into new tech waters, it’s smart to stick to established protocols and standardised procedures. Having well-defined procedures will streamline the integration process, ensuring uniformity with the existing UEM framework. Therefore, before jumping into a technological investment, it’s crucial to understand what your current UEM solution can handle and tailor the onboarding process for upcoming tech accordingly.

For instance, if the introduction of Internet of Things (IoT) devices is on the horizon, it is imperative to verify that the selected UEM solution can manage these devices efficiently. This proactive assessment not only forestalls potential conflicts but also ensures a seamless integration process.

Additionally, selecting UEM solutions with robust integration capabilities is recommended. The chosen UEM should exhibit scalability and flexibility, adept at adapting to the dynamic landscape of innovative technologies. Integration-friendly UEMs facilitate the smooth onboarding of new devices and technologies into the existing infrastructure.

Furthermore, emphasising collaboration between UEM solutions and other technology vendors is crucial. This collaboration becomes particularly evident during periodic compliance audits aimed at ensuring that the integrated technologies align with regulatory standards. Choosing a UEM solution that shares a partnership with a security and compliance platform streamlines the implementation of security measures and ensures regular and thorough audits.

Regular testing procedures for integrated technologies are equally important. Thorough testing identifies and addresses potential issues or vulnerabilities, maintaining the integrity of the UEM system. By combining the adoption of best practices with a comprehensive integration strategy, retailers can seamlessly introduce innovative technologies into their UEM framework.

How to proactively prepare for evolving threats

In the past year, the retail sector has been facing diverse cyber threats demanding proactive defence strategies. One major concern is the surge in sophisticated ransomware attacks targeting retailers.

These attacks aim to encrypt crucial systems, demanding payment for decryption keys. A recent survey by Sophos highlighted that exploited vulnerabilities and compromised credentials were the leading causes of major ransomware attacks in retail.

Social engineering attacks, particularly business email compromise (BEC) and phishing, represent methods for obtaining credentials, and around 32% of retail respondents have cited email as a root cause. To counter these threats, retailers should focus on comprehensive employee training, emphasise on strong data backup systems, deploy email authentication protocols like DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance), and implement advanced endpoint protection.

Additionally, the growth of e-commerce also brings forth the risk of Magecart attacks, where cybercriminals compromise online payment systems to pilfer customer payment information. Retailers can fortify their defenses by investing in secure payment gateways, conducting regular security audits, and adopting a zero-trust approach. Implementing multi-factor authentication for admin consoles and blocking potentially harmful e-commerce websites can effectively thwart Magecart threats.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) adoption rises in the retail industry, retail organisations must consider enforcing stringent security measures for IoT devices, including IoT management platforms, network segmentation, and the use of strong authentication protocols to prevent unauthorised access.

Furthermore, supply chain attacks pose a significant risk to the retail sector. Cybercriminals may target vulnerabilities in third-party suppliers or distributors to compromise the integrity of products or steal sensitive data. Retail organisations should conduct thorough security assessments of their supply chain partners, implement vendor risk management programs, and enforce stringent cybersecurity standards.

Apu Pavithran is the founder and CEO of Hexnode, the award-winning Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) platform.