A spate of bad news for former retail giants like Toys 'R' Us and mall-staple Claire’s has cast a dark shadow over the state of brick-and-mortar retail. But the truth of the matter isn’t that retailers will be abandoning their physical footprints going forward. It’s indicative of a larger trend toward more digital, mobile and distributed operations that has been upending processes across industries – and changing how consumers interact with brands in the physical world, rather than retiring the brick-and-mortar storefront altogether.
In fact, rumors started circulating not long after Toys 'R' Us announced they’d be shuttering their entire network of more than 400 stores stateside that Amazon – the company most-cited as the death knell for brick-and-mortar – would be swooping in to purchase a wide swath of the toy seller’s former real estate at bargain-basement prices. The goal would be to both expand Amazon’s number of physical storefronts – from Whole Foods grocery stores, to bookstores, to Amazon Go ‘bodegas’ – while also supporting online shopping operations by creating a larger network of micro distribution centers.
What's really happening is that retail is becoming omnichannel, which means retailers need to be everywhere. It's not a binary choice between brick-and-mortar or online shops but having a play in both arenas PLUS on social media and an array of IoT interfaces. The bad news is that retailers who haphazardly dive into the omnichannel world can leave their businesses open to significant cybersecurity vulnerabilities, which could send brands down the same path of Claire’s or Toys ‘R’ Us despite their best efforts.
Managing Distributed Networks Requires a Unique Touch
A retailer’s network infrastructure needs to support all of the brand’s omnichannel efforts, which will be distributed to the point where the network perimeter is nearly impossible to track as brands adopt more outreach channels, for example, online stores. This will require robust gateway defenses that assure that all the traffic crossing the network threshold to access sensitive corporate data is legitimate.
This will be an especially difficult challenge for retailers given the diversity of data – in volume, size and sensitivity – that security teams will be tasked with securing, and the many different levels of access that will need to be assigned.
Point-of-sale systems (POS), for instance, are already becoming much more than just transaction terminals. The wireless devices that many companies are adopting for POS have access to inventory information within the store, in far-off warehouses and other branch locations to assure that no shopper leaves the building unsatisfied, even if that means the item they planned on walking out with is instead shipped to their home. At the same time, these devices will be processing sensitive customer payment information that requires a much higher level of security than inventory data (which, by design, should be transparent and widely accessible).
Security teams need to be able to have an active directory of users and devices with assigned permissions that their web gateways can quickly reference to immediately identify potentially suspicious traffic. From there, they need to set a baseline of what is expected/normal traffic based upon device types – frequent traffic between a POS tablet and a warehouse on a busy Saturday, for instance. This will make it easier to identify which activities would immediately appear anomalous, or if an unidentified user/device is attempting to cross the perimeter in the first place.
Separate the Most Sensitive Data
From there, transaction information and other sensitive traffic needs to be vetted through dedicated tools that isolate this information from less-sensitive data, such as inventory figures. This means that retailers should leverage dedicated gateways or paths into the network for transaction data, and similarly separate gateways and pathways for more innocuous information passing in and out of the network.
Inevitably, this will make cybersecurity a more delicate dance than it had been in the past for security and network administrators. That isn’t to say that an organization has to create more splintered operations simply because teams will need distinct capabilities to secure different kinds of traffic. Cloud-based security solutions, for instance, usually enable management of network information through a single console or interface, whereas hardware may require separate management per-device. On the flip side, businesses with sensitive data need to be wary about the information they send into shared-cloud environments, as it may be more prone to breaches by shared parties. The shift to omnichannel will require brands to weigh their priorities and the nature of their data to find a solution that fits best for their interests.
By being able to clearly isolate traffic, identify high-priority data, and secure it all cohesively, brands can more easily transition into an omnichannel future without inadvertently opening themselves up to business-killing data breaches.