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Retail Security: Protecting Data to Protect Customers



The retail industry holds a treasure trove of sensitive customer data, making it a prime target for cybercriminals. With retailers like JD Sports, Boots, and Staples falling victim to cyberattacks in recent years, it’s obvious that organisations need to defend against breaches that can affect customer trust, cause financial losses, and damage brand reputation.  

To combat these threats, retailers need to shift from a reactive security approach, i.e. one that only comes into effect once a breach has occurred, to a proactive strategy by prioritising resilience. Their approach must not only protect the perimeter of their networks, but also protects the data itself.  

Building a multi-layered defence  

While frameworks like PCI DSS and ISO 27001 provide valuable foundations for security practices, true resilience demands a more comprehensive and proactive approach.  

Simply ticking compliance boxes isn’t enough. Retailers must adopt a multi-layered defence system, that prioritises continuous improvement and proactive risk mitigation.  

Some methods that retail organisations should consider implementing to secure their data are: 

  • Data Minimisation: Collect and store only the data absolutely necessary for your business operations. Don’t hoard unnecessary information that increases your attack surface. 
  • Data Encryption: Shield sensitive data at rest and in transit, rendering it illegible even if intercepted by attackers. Think of it as building a secure vault for your most valuable assets. 
  • Access Controls: Implement stringent access controls, granting access to sensitive data based on the principle of least privilege. Restrict access to only those who need it for their specific roles, just like having designated keyholders for sensitive areas. 
  • Vulnerability Management: Regularly scan and patch vulnerabilities in your systems and software. Software vulnerabilities are common footholds for bad actors, so proactively identifying and fixing these weak spots should be a key priority.  

Proactivity for prevention 

Faced with an onslaught of threats, traditional cyber security has taken on an air of firefighting.  

Security teams, understaffed and often underfunded, scramble to respond to breaches after they have occurred.  

Fortunately, the security industry is coming to understand that this approach is no longer sustainable. Instead, retailers must cultivate a proactive security culture that emphasises regular security audits and improvements, threat prevention whilst building incident preparedness to ensure that breaches can be handled calmly, quickly, and effectively.   

This involves:  

  • Investing in Risk Prevention:Proactive security strategies go beyond simply putting up firewalls. They involve vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to regularly assess not just how attackers could get into an organisation, but also how much damage they are able to do once inside. Frequent, engaging security awareness training for employees also helps to reduce the risk of the most common attack method, social engineering.  
  • Building Attack Playbooks: By simulating potential attack scenarios and outlining response protocols with the board, retailers can ensure a faster and more effective response to real-world threats. The playbooks should outline the processes for containing, investigating, and recovering from security incidents to all who may be involved in incident response. Remember that in order to build true preparedness, playbooks need to be tested regularly.  
  • Embracing Automation and SOCs:Security Operations Centers (SOCs), equipped with automation tools and extensive threat intelligence, continuous monitoring of retailers’ networks, detecting and responding to threats in real-time and freeing up security personnel to focus on more strategic tasks.  

Anticipating Seasonal Threats  

The retail sector’s predictable peaks in the calendar, from summer sales to Black Friday, make continuous managed detection and response even more important.  

Cybercriminals readily exploit these time periods, knowing that retail security teams are likely OOO during quiet periods, or stretched thin during peak times.  

Furthermore, ransomware actors will know that extended downtimes are particularly costly during peak sales periods, making them an ideal time to strike and extort payments. By anticipating these seasonal threats, businesses can bolster their security posture beforehand and minimise the risk of disruption and financial losses.  

Embrace a culture of data protection 

Building a strong data protection culture is crucial. This requires: 

  • Executive Buy-In: Data protection needs to be a strategic priority, supported by leadership at all levels. Make it a core value, not just an IT concern. 
  • Continuous Learning and Improvement: Regularly evaluate and update your security measures to adapt to evolving threats. Don’t let your defences become static. Constant adaptation and learning is the key to staying ahead of the curve and preparing for new threats. 
  • Open Communication: Foster a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting security concerns. Create an environment where everyone feels empowered to speak up and contribute to security efforts. 

24/7 Vigilance is Key  

Cyber threats don’t take holidays, and neither should your security. Maintaining continuous monitoring across your entire ecosystem, including internal networks, third-party integrations, and physical infrastructure, is essential for detecting and responding to threats.  

By adopting these proactive approaches, retailers can build a layered-defence strategy that protects their most critical data from threat actors.  

When doing so can foster customer trust, build brand loyalty, and ensure business continuity, why would any organisation risk staying reactive? 

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