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Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has all but silenced any remaining doubt regarding the importance of digital transformation – a truth that is evident across virtually every aspect of how the world now works, shops, and lives. Retailers, and convenience stores (c-stores) in particular, had to accelerate their technology strategies and adopt contactless payment, home delivery, and curbside pickup processes. And they had to do all that in addition to deploying a wide range of edge devices like point-of-sale (POS) systems, tank gauges, digital displays, self-service kiosks, and more.
Although these connected technologies turned out to be a boon for both customers and c-store operators from a convenience and safety standpoint, there has been a significant tradeoff. C-stores are now increasingly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.
In fact, network and data security has risen to the top of most IT priority lists. Here’s why and here’s what c-stores can do to help fortify their defenses.
Increasing Adoption of Mobile Payment Technology
In an effort to enable shopping and purchase convenience and limit face-to-face contact, c-stores continue to increase their adoption of mobile payment technology. According to PWC’s 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, 45% of consumers said they were using their mobile phone more last year as a shopping channel since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Likewise, findings from the 2020 C-Store Shopper Report show that 39% of respondents said they used their loyalty program’s mobile app to pay for purchases. This supports a historic prevailing trend among many c-stores that were already offering or working toward offering consumers the option to pay with a private-label debit card through their mobile devices.
Adding to that, 5G technology offerings continue to expand, driving mobile adoption. And, while this new technology, combined with better performance – including greater data capacity, lower latency, and precise location sensing – has significant implications on the c-store customer experience, it also presents new security risks.
More Aggressive and Persistent Hackers Exploiting Weaknesses
As c-stores focused on keeping their shelves stocked, customers happy, and businesses going, hackers were becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts to find and exploit security weaknesses. VMware’s first cybersecurity threat survey conducted in 2020 showed 92% of respondents in the U.S. stated the number of cyberattacks had increased in the last 12 months. A supplemental survey then found that a staggering 89% had been targeted by malware directly related to COVID-19. So, why were c-stores a primary target?
Topping the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) list of major issues affecting the convenience industry are data breaches and payment security. After malware attacks, data breaches at major convenience store chains often go unnoticed for months, during which time huge amounts of sensitive customer data can be compromised or stolen.
Additionally, as numerous c-stores accelerated their digital transformation journey last year, often more rushed than desired, they also became more exposed to hackers. This was largely due to the increased number of network edge devices. While more business is taking place at the edge, and the need for edge technology is growing exponentially, those operations are often being managed locally by an individual whose core competency is not IT. This opens the door to the potential for configuration mistakes and other human errors. As a result, c-store operators are facing even greater pressure to ensure that their security measures account for this higher risk exposure.
What’s a C-Store to Do?
Right from the start of the pandemic, the U.S. government designated c-stores as essential businesses. Almost a year later, retailers remain on the front lines grappling with how to best support their employees, serve their customers, and confront the security implications of ongoing market disruptions. Fortunately, most security risks can be mitigated by taking a few straightforward steps.
Becoming a hyperadaptive business is the best place to start. To do this, c-stores need a technology infrastructure that is flexible and resilient enough to allow for the unexpected. C-stores (and really all types of retailers) should consider SD-WAN technology along with Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services that can provide ongoing visibility to hackers and unwanted attacks.
SD-WAN technology can reduce the number of network devices and connections needed at each remote site, while significantly lowering network complexity, cost, and risk. MDR services can also provide a more cost-effective, individualized approach to securing an otherwise highly vulnerable business infrastructure across the entire supply chain.
In one sense, 2020 was really no different than previous years. Corporate offices of even the largest and most recognized organizations around the world were unable to provide onsite IT professionals to staff and support each of their remote locations. What was different, however, was the sheer amount of technology transformation required – virtually overnight – and the level of vulnerability these changes introduced.
Suffice to say, the c-store industry quickly learned some valuable lessons. At the forefront was the realization that security cannot be viewed as a “next step” on any action plan. Instead, security must be elevated to a higher level of criticality if any c-store wants to ensure both their customers and businesses are adequately protected.
While the c-store industry will inevitably continue to experience disruptions and market shifts, it’s safe to say that the current state will remain its “new normal” for quite some time. The pandemic has permanently changed the way we work, shop, and live. To remain competitive, c-stores must transform digitally to meet current and emerging customer demands. The most savvy business operators will focus on investing in innovative and proven technologies, as well as partnering with trusted vendors and consultants. As a result, they’ll be well positioned to continue optimizing the customer experience while growing their business, reducing risk, and protecting their valuable data and assets.
Saudi Aramco to co-lead report on cyber resilience in oil industry
CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Aramco is co-leading a report on cyber resilience in the oil and gas industry with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Siemens Energy, the Saudi Arabian state oil giant wrote on Twitter.
Aramco added that the report is “a collaboration involving 40 major industry players to shape the future of cyber security in the oil and gas industry”.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by David Goodman)
Image Credit: Reuters
Product warranty startup Extend raises $260 million, SoftBank leads funding
By Jane Lanhee Lee
(Reuters) – Extend, a San Francisco tech startup that makes it easier for businesses to offer product warranties, said on Tuesday it raised $260 million in a funding round led by SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund 2 that valued the company at over $1 billion.
Extend allows companies to add a button to their online markets that gives customers the option to pay extra to protect their purchases, said Woodrow Levin, CEO and Co-founder of Extend.
If there is a problem with the product, Extend will handle the claim, in most cases through a customer service chatbot, said Levin.
Extend is among a growing number of tech startups, from logistics to payments to marketing, aimed at helping smaller companies build up their e-commerce business. Many have raised large amounts of funding in the past year.
“Merchants are trying to figure out how can they create a more level playing field against the Walmarts, against the Amazons, against these huge marketplaces. And they’re shipping extended warranties, buy-now-pay-later. All of these tools are what they need in order to be able to compete for a share of customers’ wallets,” said Levin.
Nagraj Kashyap, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, said extended warranties and product protection services were ripe for change.
“Because of the way it was being practiced in the past, it literally only touches 1% of the available market,” he said.
Extend, launched in 2019, sold over 300,000 protection plans last year and is on track this year to sell over 3 million plans, Levin said. He expects revenue this year to jump by more than 400%.
Merchants that add the Extend button to their online markets also get a cut of the fees, Levin said. Extend estimates that adding the Extend warranty service increases overall product sales by 11%.
(Reporting By Jane Lanhee Lee; editing by Richard Pullin)
Image Credit: Reuters
Biden administration eyes cybersecurity funding after hacks
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration on Tuesday detailed how it wants to fund efforts to counter a wave of massive hacks in the wake of this month’s Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack.
In a statement on Tuesday, the White House detailed the cyber element of President Joe Biden’s already proposed American Jobs Plan, including $20 billion for localities to harden energy systems and $2 billion in grants for energy grids in high-risk areas.
Biden’s planned $100 billion broadband investment plan is also being presented as cybersecurity spending on the grounds that grant recipients will be asked to source from “trusted vendors.”
The security of the U.S. energy grid has long been a worry for cybersecurity experts. Regional blackouts in 2003 and 2011 drew attention to the vulnerability of the power system and examples from abroad have also drawn concern.
Last year the U.S. Department of Justice charged Russian intelligence officers with brazen attacks on Ukraine’s grid that briefly left millions without electricity.
The amount of funding is likely to become a key issue as Biden seeks to win bipartisan support for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, with Senate Republicans expected to unveil their latest counterproposal later on Tuesday.
Their initial countermeasure overall called for a fraction of Biden’s proposed spending, seeking a total of $568 billion focused narrowly on traditional infrastructure and internet access.
Presenting Biden’s plan as being at least partially geared toward boosting cybersecurity – a rare area of bipartisan cooperation – may be aimed at helping bridge the gap between the proposals, particularly in the wake of the attack on Colonial Pipeline Co, which shut a critical fuel conduit and triggered panic-buying in some sections of the East Coast.
The Colonial hack followed two other high-profile intrusions targeting Microsoft Corp’s Exchange email software and software made by SolarWinds Corp.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Raphael Satter; writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)
Image Credit: Reuters
China bans financial, payment institutions from cryptocurrency business
BEIJING (Reuters) -China has banned financial institutions and payment companies from providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions, and warned investors against speculative crypto trading.
Under the ban, such institutions, including banks and online payments channels, must not offer clients any service involving cryptocurrency, such as registration, trading, clearing and settlement, three industry bodies said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
“Recently, crypto currency prices have skyrocketed and plummeted, and speculative trading of cryptocurrency has rebounded, seriously infringing on the safety of people’s property and disrupting the normal economic and financial order,” they said in the statement.
China has banned crypto exchanges and initial coin offerings but has not barred individuals from holding cryptocurrencies.
The institutions must not provide saving, trust or pledging services of cryptocurrency, nor issue financial product related to cryptocurrency, the statement also said.
The statement also highlighted the risks of cryptocurrency trading, saying vitural currencies “are not supported by real value”, their prices are easily manipulated, and trading contracts are not protected by Chinese law.
The three industry bodies are: the National Internet Finance Association of China, the China Banking Association and the Payment and Clearing Association of China.
(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Jane Merriman)
Image Credit: Reuters
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