What’s Behind the Leaks of Customer Data From Retailer Databases?

September 13, 2021
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3 min read

Retail data breaches involving customer data happen often today. However, they tend to be smaller in
size than health care, finance or government breaches. So, the general public notices them less. Yet, they happen more often than realized. Why? And how can you defend against them?

Human Error in Customer Data Theft

All types of retail outlets could fall prey to data leaks, and not all breaches come from bad intent. For example, CVS Health data could be a gold mine because of the mix of health, financial and insurance records. However, the drugstore chain’s recent breach of more than 1 billion records appears to be caused by human error. The records, according to ThreatPost, “were left in the database of a third-party, unnamed vendor – exposed, unprotected, online,” likely because of a cloud misconfiguration that left the data vulnerable.

Wegmans Food Market is a grocery store chain, but its customer data is just as attractive to attackers as a drug store’s data. Another cloud misconfiguration affecting databases left personally identifiable information (PII) of its Shoppers Club members and anyone with a Wegmans.com account open for potential compromise. Kroger was the victim of a similar style of data leak, but this misconfiguration impacted human resources data.

Outside Attackers

The retail industry is not immune to ransomware. In fact, this type of retail cyberattacks soared during the pandemic, increasing by 1280% from the beginning of 2020 to the end of the year. Fashion retailer Guess suffered a ransomware attack in February 2021 which exposed customers’ sensitive information, but it wasn’t revealed until the summer. The REvil gang held the data of a Swedish grocery store’s data ransom for $70 million. Bose also disclosed a customer data breach due to a ransomware attack this year, accessing the PII of current and former employees.

Third-party data breaches are also a threat to retail. Baby and children’s clothing retailer Carters’ was the victim of a data leak of customer data due to poor security around shortened URLs used by a vendor. And of course, the most infamous retail data breach of all, the Target breach, was the result of a third-party vulnerability, impacting the company’s point-of-sale devices and software.

Protecting Customer Data

With the multiple ways attackers leak and steal data, as well as the fines and financial damage involved, any retail company should hold keeping data safe at top of mind.

Some basic and simple approaches span industries:

  • Encrypting sensitive data, both for customers and employees
  • Upgrade and strengthen malware protection
  • Restrict access across the cloud to decrease risk of misconfiguration
  • Better training for employees. Add security awareness tips to customers on the company website, too. This will help prevent mistakes that put their data at risk.
  • Consider using a Consumer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) platform to offer better data management.

How CIAM Works

Managing data and tracking the identities attached to data is tough enough when only dealing with insider information. Organizations with employees and contractors have ideal environments for identity and access management systems (IAM). Adding customer data and other external IDs adds another layer. CIAM offers customers some control over their personal data, beginning when they register and sustained throughout the customer/retailer life cycle. CIAM can track things like customer behavior and risk profiles, and address potential risk through functions like access requests or by location detection. IAM offers security and privacy checks for static identities; CIAM offers the same for IDs that are always shifting.

The retail industry manages a lot of PII for customers and employees, and that requires multi-faceted approaches. Your customers are trusting you with their personal lives. Make sure you act like it.

Sue Poremba

I began writing within the branded content/content marketing space in 2011, including articles, blog posts, SEO, Q&A, and profiles. My specialties are cy...
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