When hackers plunder a business’s internal payment processing systems, the consequences can be catastrophic. The casualties often include the private credit card data of numerous customers, sensitive employee information, and the hacked company’s reputation and bottom line.
While no measures can provide foolproof protection against data breaches, fraud and other criminal behavior, there are definitive steps you can take to safeguard your retail store or restaurant against cyber-attacks.
Take Time to Maintain Strong Passwords
The temptation to make passwords as easy and memorable as possible is undeniable, especially when time is of the essence for busy entrepreneurs and their staff. Unfortunately, taking shortcuts when it comes to passwords is a hacker’s dream, providing criminals with an easy gateway into your system.
As annoying as it may be, it is essential that you take time to create strong sequences of random symbols, case-sensitive characters and multiple numbers. Make sure that you and all of your staff change their user names and passwords at least on a monthly basis, and insist that no passwords are written down near the computer.
Carefully Choose Your Internet Service Provider
Sometimes you get exactly what you pay for. That’s why it isn’t a good idea to simply sign on the dotted line with the cheapest internet service provider you can find. Reputable vendors may charge more, but part of the price is reflected in the more robust security features of the system as well as the availability of customer support representatives who can assist you in the event that a hack has occurred.
Once you have ascertained that your provider has the security features that will help to safeguard your business, you can then make sure you get the connection speeds and affordable price that will help you seal the deal.
Protect Yourself Against Viruses and Spyware
No doubt, you have heard the horror stories. Entire systems can be taken over by bots or spyware and turned into slaves that do the bidding of criminals while simultaneously preventing businesses from accessing their own data. Furthermore, with a single click, an employee can open an email attachment and subject the entire cyber-infrastructure to the onslaught of a vicious and destructive virus.
By installing cutting-edge anti-virus and anti-spyware software, you can minimize your chances of becoming a victim to one of these frightening and debilitating electronic attacks. Furthermore, even the smallest of retailers should invest in a solid network firewall system that monitors and controls all of the incoming and outgoing traffic. Once you have installed this feature, you can receive up-to-the-minute reports of any suspicious activity occurring within your system.
Take Steps to Encrypt Customers’ Data
The less contact that you, the merchant, have with your customers’ credit card numbers, CRVs and expiration dates, the lower your chances of being hacked. That’s because criminals are seeking this valuable information in order to make purchases themselves or sell it on the black market at immense profits.
Thanks to the recent adoption of credit cards equipped with EMV chips, retailers are much less likely to need to store sensitive data. With EMV transactions as well as mobile payments, tokenization technology enables the data to be encrypted and kept secure from customers and merchants throughout the payment transaction process. In fact, only the end company, entities such as MasterCard, Visa and American Express, have the keys to unlock these secure tokens. If you don’t already have a modern point-of-sale system that contains these features, talk to your payment processing provider about upgrading.
Secure Your Hardware
In addition to sneaking their way into your electronic systems via spyware or viruses, criminals often go for the most obvious pillaging by stealing your electronic property including cellphones, servers, PCs and laptops. In addition to investing in an excellent security system for your property, physically lock down your equipment by securing it to your desk. Just feed a cable through your computer’s Kensington lock port, the metal loop that is found on most PCs and laptops.
While a determined thief can circumvent this precaution, it takes extra time and is often enough to deter the criminal. If you use laptops in the field, there is tracking software available that will allow you to remotely locate your equipment and password protect it from afar.
Keep Your Employees Informed
The more sets of trusted eyes you have monitoring your systems, the better your chances of intercepting criminals before they can do a lot of damage. Periodically update your employees on the latest security threats, and take a few minutes on a regular basis to explain why security precautions are so important not only for the business but also for them personally.
One of your best uses of time will occur if you write out a comprehensive internet usage policy that details what online activities are acceptable and which are prohibited. By ensuring that everyone is on board with this document, you have obtained buy-in from the people who can best be counted on to be your security partners.
Understand Your Merchant Accounts Provider’s Role
While much of the burden of protecting your company’s security falls on you, your merchant account provider also bears some of the responsibility. Be sure that this vendor complies with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requirements. If they fail to do so, you could be left holding the financial bag if you are hacked.
Fraud, data breaches and other forms of hacking can quickly bring the business you have worked tirelessly to build to its knees. Don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable to these evil raids that can cost you your well-being, your customers, and even your company itself. Doing all you can to bolster your security fortress is one of the most proactive investments of time and resources you can give to your retail establishment.