How to protect your point of sale system from cybercriminals

After high profile data breaches like the ones at Target and The Home Depot rocked the retail industry, enormous investments went into securing point of sale terminals and other systems that deal with customer credit card data. However those efforts didn't seem to make much difference.

Internet security firm Symantec said that 60 percent of compromised identities were exposed by the retail sector. This is largely because most of the investments to secure the point of sale systems came from extremely large national retailers while smaller, local retailers have lagged behind on getting their security up to par. Thankfully there are a number of easy steps that smaller retailers can take to ensure that their systems are safe and secure.

Passwords
The first step in creating a safe system for your customer data is to use strong passwords that change frequently. Techspective estimates that 30 percent of data breaches come from weak passwords at point of sale systems. A strong password utilizes upper and lower case letters, as well as symbols. To make it even stronger, use a phrase or several unrelated words as well.

System updates
Point of sale system software, just like many other kinds of software, is constantly being updated by manufacturers. In the case of POS systems, most of the updates are put into place to counter the threat posed by new types of malware attacks that can be used to steal customer data. If the point of sale is not updated in a timely fashion, it can fall victim to malware attacks and that is a major threat to the security of customer data.

Firewalls
Cybercriminals are like water or electricity, they follow the path of least resistance, so an important way to stop them from hacking your system is to make it more complex to attack. Installing a firewall to screen your point of sale system from the rest of your corporate network can be one of the ways to make hackers reassess their efforts. Each obstacle put in the path of a cybercriminal is another spot where they might rethink what they are doing and move on.

Antivirus software
Some of the most dangerous point of sale attacks come from malware and viruses. So installing and continually updating antivirus software is critical to protecting your point of sale infrastructure. This simple step is often overlooked by retailers and it can be a cheap and easy way to stop hackers who manage to penetrate beyond any external firewalls.

Disconnect the system
If a point of sale terminal or computer has internet access, it may be an easy way in for a hacker. Restrict the access these terminals have to the Internet to prevent malware from being introduced by malicious emails or other scams that come directly from the Web.

No remote access
Make certain that remote access is not allowed on any of your point of sale networks. With remote access disabled, a cybercriminal would have to physically be accessing your network from one of your actual terminals, making any attack a much harder proposition. Most cyberattacks rely on malware to create a channel and then using remote access to attack the system and steal data. If the network doesn't allow the second step, it makes an attack of this type nearly impossible.

Retailers need to be vigilant when protecting their systems and their customers' data. Cybercriminals are always looking to target point of sale systems thanks to the treasure trove of data they provide. By following these steps, retailers can protect themselves and their customers from harm.