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Importance of Cyber Security in Retail

Retailers face a tremendous challenge as they process, store and protect their customers’ private information. Financial data, usernames and passwords of retail shoppers are vulnerable to attack whether the customer shops in-store or online. Retail cyber security is a growing segment of the IT industry, and tech professionals with a background in retail cyber security are in high demand. Completing an online MBA program with a concentration in cyber security can be a great next step in a career in information security.

Retail Cyber Threats

Retail cyber attacks tend to be dominate the news because of their direct impact on individual consumers. In recent years, retailers and shopping websites that have experienced headline-generating security breaches include Target, The Home Depot and eBay. In-store cyber attacks occur when criminals steal credit card information from payment terminals at the check-out lanes. Online attacks involve hackers breaking in to website databases to steal data such as payment information, usernames and passwords that they can use on other websites. Tens of millions of security breaches can happen all at once following these attacks.

Shopping has changed dramatically in recent years. Online shopping is still a relatively new phenomenon, and the percentage of shoppers making online purchases versus in-store purchases is increasing every year. In addition, consumers’ increasing preference for debit or credit cards over cash or checks for in-store payments makes them vulnerable to data theft.

Technological advances in online shopping have also increased the need for retail cyber security. Companies use cloud storage for their databases and email systems, and consumers are choosing mobile devices for purchases instead of desktop computers. With each advance in technology comes the potential for new cyber threats to consumer data.

What Is at Stake for Retailers?

Companies have a great deal at stake financially in guaranteeing retail cyber security for their customers. If a security breach occurs, the company will inevitably incur large financial losses as they repair the damage and offer protections to their customers. After a breach, companies typically must pay for increased IT help, legal assistance and consumer credit protection and repair for affected customers.

Retail data theft causes even greater damage to companies through loss of consumer confidence. When news of a data breach makes headlines, shoppers become wary to use credit cards or visit the affected stores for a period of time. Retailers may experience significant drops in profits in the months following such incidents and therefore work hard to protect their customers’ data to keep sales flowing.

Security Measures for Retailers

Retailers likely will find it is impossible to prevent all attacks from cyber criminals. Large retailers process millions of transactions every day from multiple stores and websites in multiple states, creating millions of opportunities to lose financial and personal data. Rather than attempt to prevent every single attack, retailers can work to develop strategies for handling the attacks as they occur.

Companies can continue to prioritize the protection of their customers’ data and improve their ability to act quickly in the face of cyber threats. Retailers must also prioritize the development of new security measures as they develop new technology for consumer purchases, including the use of mobile devices and cloud storage. Companies should also improve shopper education so that consumers know the best practices for password creation and safe network usage.

Because retail stores are in the top five most-targeted industries for cyber attacks, the need for retail cyber security will remain high in the coming years. Graduate students in online MBA programs in cyber security can take classes to prepare themselves for an IT career with a focus on handling retail cyber threats. Graduate-level classes will cover essential topics such as cryptology, network protocols, the use of cryptographic algorithms for authentication, and techniques for securing and managing computers and networks in a retail setting. Students will also learn security policies, computer network management, and disaster recovery as it relates to retail cyber security.

Learn about the UT Tyler online MBA with a concentration in Cyber Security program.


SecurityIntelligence: Cyber Security Challenges — How Do Retailers Protect the Bottom Line?

National Retail Federation: Data Security

PricewaterhouseCoopers: Cybersecurity Challenges in an Interconnected World

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