Industry spotlight: How can retailers combat the growing threat of cyber-attacks?

The increase in digital transactions has presented new opportunities for hackers and the retail sector is feeling the effects. Cyber-security is becoming a key priority for ambitious retailers who are deploying highly sophisticated technologies to counter the threat.

The challenges of digital transactions

Paying for goods and services today is easy. We simply tap a card or mobile phone and head for the exit. Or, simpler still, we buy online and pick up in-store without having to take any money with us.

It’s simpler, but is it safer? Retail payment systems are inherently vulnerable as they’re powered by a wide range of software, hardware, and cloud-based components. Cyber criminals find opportunities to deploy malware on devices or through back-end cloud services, giving them access to internal systems and customer data. Every digital transaction is an opportunity for hackers.

Cyber-attacks may not be a new problem for retailers, but it’s an increasingly common one. The explosion of digital transactions, hastened by the pandemic and more fragmented supply chains, has left them especially open to attack.

How big is the problem?

In 2022, ransomware attacks on retailers were up by 67% from the year before. Every day, 16% of UK retailers report a cyber-attack or attempted cyber-attack.

Many high-profile retailers have become victims. The attack on the sports and leisure clothing business, JD Sports, underlines the far-reaching damage an attack can cause. Earlier this year, the company admitted that hackers had accessed the personal details of over 10 million customers. Although they were confident that no passwords had been revealed, they were forced to contact millions of customers to warn them to be vigilant of scam emails, calls and texts.

Cyber-attacks don’t just mean leaked customer data. Other retailers have experienced interrupted supplies of stock and disruptions to online deliveries. Problems like these can cause a collapse in consumer confidence and damage to brand reputation.

So, if you’re a retailer, the question isn’t whether a retail brand will experience a cyber-attack, but when. With hackers becoming more and more sophisticated, you need some powerful allies on your side.

“The most important step is to find a cyber-security partner with experience of the current threat landscape, who can design a bespoke solution for your retail business and offers constant monitoring and incident reporting”

Fighting back against the hackers

Now is the time to do the risk analysis and then review and update your IT infrastructure to make sure that it’s fully protected. That doesn’t just apply to your own systems. It’s estimated that two-thirds of breaches are through third parties or suppliers, so retailers need to put their entire supply chains under the spotlight.

So, what should be in your cyber-security strategy? It’s important to remember that there’s no universal piece of technology that solves the issue, but every business needs its own bespoke solution. However, here are a few key principles:

  • Review your legacy hardware and software which may no longer be adequate to handle modern cyber-attacks. Investing in up-to-date cyber enhanced, IoT enhanced and mobile enhanced technologies can increase protection against modern malware, phishing and ransomware threats.

  • The key is to have the ability to spot and identify risks as soon as they occur. This means creating secure environments for your data and platforms to give you complete visibility across your entire IT infrastructure.

  • Your system should have the ability to monitor, update and patch proactively. Cyber-security is a 24/7/365 operation.

  • Security threats often come from employee error, so staff awareness training is crucial to make them aware of the dangers of clicking on an unknown link or downloading an attachment.

The most important step is to find a cyber-security partner with experience of the current threat landscape, who can design a bespoke solution for your retail business and offers constant monitoring and incident reporting.

One more thing – don’t look at cyber-security as an extra overhead, but as an essential part of your digital transformation. Without it, your systems will face increasing levels of risk and your brand may suffer irreparable damage. The right solution comes with a welcome bonus – you’ll be able to sleep at night.

Technology helping retailers tackle tomorrow’s challenges

Vodafone Business works with retailers of all sizes to future proof their operations through innovative solutions.

Get in touch