Retail organizations are different. While they don’t have the compliance requirements of a bank or the large amount of sensitive data that healthcare has, they must protect their employees, customers, and brand. As retailers prepare for one of the busiest times of the year, let’s discuss some of the challenges and priorities to consider now to manage the evolving cybersecurity landscape ahead of the holidays.

1. Cybersecurity Strategy: Not having a strong understanding of your security state and a clear road map for maturity is detrimental to the company mission. How will security enable the business? This leads to being reactive and likely spending money in less optimal ways. Compounding this issue, many still don’t have leadership roles dedicated to security or employ a CISO.

A CISO understands the business and security, they weigh in on priorities and collaborate with other C-levels on risks. CISOs present the risk and options, but the business still owns the decision. It is difficult if there isn't a plan or strategy to give guidance. Combining leadership and strategy enables you to set achievable milestones and implement programs to manage the people, process, and technology for long term proactiveness.

If you can’t staff a leadership role, look to partner with organizations who can advise you on a strategy and frameworks. Build a road map for maturity and staff a part-time CISO (aka Virtual CISO/vCISO). A good road map driven by a security program manager can be a start.

2. Talent: The battle for talent spans all levels and is elevated in cybersecurity. There’s a lack of skilled resources, there’s an abundance of open positions, and the industry does a poor job of growing entry level talent. Combine this with all the new ways retailers must provide services; it’s not only a store or website, but delivery, marketplaces, third party services, BOPIS, etc. These complications mean the technology must enable the business even more, and it creates a larger attack surface.

Build programs for entry level staff as well as transition staff into security. Create a desirable workplace with benefits that employees want to hold on to, and career opportunities so those with ambition never feel like they are in a ‘dead end’ position. Salary and benefits are a tough thing to benchmark today, so it’s important that your strategy defines where the money available should be spent to maximize benefit, enable the business through security, and reduce the threats.

Look at leveraging services versus hiring. Identify where you want your staff to focus – strategy, day to day, or technical. Use services to fill gaps – for example, utilizing a managed services provider instead of building a security operations center. Staff augmentation, remote workers or contracting projects as opposed to building internally will also help.

3. Security Priorities: The new ways of doing business have changed the priorities of retailers. The need for technology to be available and easy to use creates risk. It’s critical to have strong security requirements as part of your systems’ acquisition and development processes. Engage partners who include security as part of their solutions and ensure those solutions meet your requirements.

Adopt a security framework. Leveraging a Zero Trust model or a retail industry cloud solution could be good options. With the integrations of many processes and technology, you will need to address that risk. The omnichannel world requires a strong plan to manage the risk and maintain the availability and ease of use you need. If you don’t know where to start, consider engaging with security partners.

4. Supply Chain: Securing your supply chain (third parties) is critical. To serve your customers, you must connect a lot, share data, APIs, custom solutions, and multiple markets. Ensure data you share remains protected to the same degree as when it was in your possession. Evaluate the risks of those connections and partners to understand the threat. This goes for SaaS, logistics, HVAC, etc., and it’s not limited to “IT.” Look outside your own fences, because your responsibility, liability, and reputation goes beyond them.

Assess your vendors and partners. Create a third-party risk management program, which defines what your partners should be doing and verify. This extends into your business, such as systems acquisition, procurement, partner management, or anywhere new technology or services could enter the business. Any time access or connectivity happens, it should have requirements.

5. Ransomware: This is complicated as many things are needed in order to manage this risk, but these items alone are not complicated at all. This is about threat and vulnerability management, detection, and response, which have moved beyond simple anti-virus solutions and firewalls. Technology is part of prevention and detection, as is user training. Resilience lies in understanding what to do when it happens and reducing the impact.

Create incident response plans (IRP), contract IR retainers, conduct compromise assessments, grow your testing and detection continually and educate users. Understand your unique threat situations – the bad guys know when you are distracted and will take advantage, like holiday freeze periods for example.

Overall, it’s important for retailers to have a strategy in place that will drive security maturity and establish leadership. Address the risk beyond your walls and create a place for talent to grow. Continually be aware of what the business needs, then identify and manage risk and get plans to react when necessary. These priorities will not only help protect retailers for their upcoming busy season, but for years ahead.