WatchGuard Blog

Retail: cybersecurity guide for a happy holiday season

Over Christmas we relax and let our guard down as these are festive times to share with friends and family. Cybercriminals capitalize on this to launch attacks, with a spike in incidents on the days between Christmas and New Year. Threats involving social engineering to gain users’ trust are particularly common, hackers then spread fraud, ransomware and malware, enabling them to infect computers, steal private data and defraud users.  

During the holiday season, when both individuals and retail companies are more relaxed, the number of ransomware attacks rises by 30% compared to the monthly average. And, similarly, a 70% increase in attempted ransomware attacks has been observed in the months of November and December compared to January and February

Top holiday threats that put the retail industry at risk 

Our guide starts by providing insight into the main threats the retail industry faces so that you know what to watch out for:  

  • Card theft and unsecured point-of-sale (PoS) systems: The physical entry vectors that attackers can exploit to carry out a cyberattack include counterfeit card readers, known as skimmers, and unsecured point-of-sale (PoS) devices. In skimming attacks, identity thieves place a small skimming device in a retailer's self-pay machine or in other legitimate card readers such as ATMs. These devices are often used to steal credit card details, but they are also capable of extracting information from other smart cards such as identity documents. Once enough information is stored, the cybercriminal downloads the data using Bluetooth technology. Unprotected PoS attacks are often perpetrated remotely by infecting them with malware designed to steal financial and payment card data. In addition, more sophisticated malware can open up access to lateral movement within the network, which can do even more damage to the retailer by gaining access to other critical business data.  

  • Public or unprotected Wi-Fi networks:  Wi-Fi is a must nowadays in stores. But if this network is unprotected, it can be used to infect connected users' devices with malware. Likewise, rogue access points can be used as backdoors into enterprise systems. Hackers can then pass them off as legitimate Wi-Fi networks and trick users to propitiate man-in-the-middle attacks. If the business premises has an unencrypted connection, cybercriminals can also monitor file sharing and traffic between users and the server in a Wi-Fi network.  

  • Untrained employees, social engineering and insider threats: There has been a rise in social engineering and phishing attacks in recent years in the retail sector, with a 29% increase this year. These tactics prove one of the easiest ways to gain access to corporate systems for hackers. Inexperienced employees pose a risk, as malicious actors can trick them into divulging their credentials or granting access to company resources.  

  • Ransomware: during 2021, 77% of retail stores were attacked by ransomware, up from 44% in 2020. This is an increase of 75% over the course of a year. In fact, this industry recorded the second highest rate of ransomware incidents. Ransomware gangs are expected to continue targeting retailers in the hope that they will be more likely to pay a ransom to minimize downtime and prevent their names from appearing on lists of compromised portals.  

What’s the best way to prepare for the attack season? 

MSPs with retail customers often encounter challenges such as secure PoS management, difficulty in deploying their security services to customers, detecting major network threats effectively or providing a secure Wi-Fi connection. Strengthening protection for all these entry points becomes an even higher priority during the holiday season. To achieve this goal, they should opt for advanced solutions such as a high-performance firewall that also offers ease of installation by allowing remote configuration. This will enable MSPs to detect and identify security threats to corporate networks, overcome the accessibility barrier and effectively deploy these solutions for customers. 

Moreover, MSPs must offer a secure Wi-Fi connection to retail customers. Every business is different, but nowadays they all need Wi-Fi connectivity both to cover company needs and connect end customers in the physical location where business is conducted. Opting for secure wireless access points is the best way to do this. Our partner NCR, a global technology company that ensures the security of nearly 550 million transactions per day in the retail and hospitality sectors, is a good example of how to prepare for the holidays by deploying these solutions. Seeking to fulfill their commitment to manage technology that safeguards billions of PoS transactions and the systems connected to them, NCR decided to implement WatchGuard's firewall and secure Wi-Fi solutions to protect its customers around the world.  

It's clear that the holiday season brings a flurry of activity for retail customers, which translates into a surge of activity for MSPs in charge of their security. The best way to deal with this surge is to leverage the visibility and ease of management of advanced solutions with a Cloud platform that simplifies complexity and increases efficiency. Being confident that you have optimal security in place is the best gift for a happy holiday season.   

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