Retail Security Risks: 2016 Midyear Roundup

The numbers are in: According to a new BDO report, a possible security breach is the biggest retail security risk, tied for the top spot with “general economic conditions.”

In January, we took a look at the retail risk reality of early 2016. Now, halfway through 2016, it’s time for a midyear roundup: What are the top retail security risks on the radar?

Evolving Landscape of Retail Security Risks

As noted by Graham Cluley, retailers face a particular subset of threats. While large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks often make headlines for their impact on big companies, just 5 percent of retailers come under fire from DDoS salvos. Why? Because it’s in the best interest of cybercriminals to keep the flow of transactions moving; shutting down retail sites and network-connected point-of-sale (POS) machines means nothing to steal and no data to compromise.

Instead, retailers are faced with the double threat of malicious code that steals login credentials and malware that infects networks to watch and record specific transactions. In fact, Graham Cluley noted that over 50 percent of retail security risks leverage these attack vectors.

Midyear Maladies

As 2016 rolls toward its halfway point, what threats are top of mind for retailers? According to SC Magazine, POS malware AbaddonPOS is again making the rounds — aimed specifically at retailers. First discovered in October 2015, it takes the form of an email campaign designed to drop TinyLoader and then the malware. The emails are highly personalized, with recipients’ names, key company details and better-than-average grammar. In addition, the message displays an active spinner, which is typical of content loading in progress.

Victims are asked to enable the content by clicking, which delivers TinyLoader. Command-and-control servers are contacted while TinyLoader grabs a new Abaddon version able to test white-list/blacklist implementations and change the way it siphons credit card data to avoid detection. The malware is under active development, meaning companies can expect to see more advanced strains in the wild over the next few months.

When it comes to malware, everything old is (eventually) new again. That’s the case for Microsoft Word macro malware, which got its start in the 1990s, took a 20-year hiatus but is now back with a vengeance — and is targeting retail companies. As noted by Dark Reading, 98 percent of all Office threats use malicious macros, and retail companies have recently been hit by POS-laced macro threats. All it takes is one user fooled into enabling macros in a supposedly clean email attachment to infect corporate networks and potentially compromise POS systems.

There is good news on the horizon, however: Microsoft is rolling out a new feature in Office 2016 that allows companies to control macro use in specific situations. Blocking macros in high-risk scenarios will make it impossible for users to accidentally infect their machines.

Perception Problems

Retailers also face another problem: perception. According to Retail Dive, new research from Tripwire showed a worrisome trend: Companies are overconfident in their ability to detect data breaches. While 90 percent of those asked said they could detect a critical data breach in less than a week and 75 percent said they could do it in just 48 hours, only 55 percent of IT pros at firms with more than $100 million in revenue said they checked security compliance “at least weekly.”

More worrisome? Implementation of breach detection tools remained flat over the last year. About 59 percent of respondents said that antivirus tools, intrusion detection systems and white-listing solutions were “only partially or marginally implemented.” Simply put, in some cases, the biggest retail security risks come from retailers themselves.

The security overview for merchants midyear 2016? Improved email campaigns are dropping POS malware, macro infections are on the rise and protection perception may undermine breach detection.

Read the IBM X-Force research report on security trends in the retail industry

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Douglas Bonderud

Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for the IBM Midsize Insider, The Content Standard and Proteomics programs for Skyword, Doug also writes for companies like Ephricon Web Marketing and sites such as MSDynamicsWorld. Clients are impressed with not only his command of language but the minimal need for editing necessary in his pieces. His ability to create readable, relatable articles from diverse Web content is second to none. He has also written a weekly column for TORWars, a videogaming website; posts about invention and design for InventorSpot.com and general knowledge articles for WiseGeek. From 2010-2012, Doug did copywriting for eCopywriters.com. Doug is currently a municipal police officer, on track to become a fantasy/sci-fi author.