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Security challenges in Malaysia’s retail industry: interview

AvantiKumar | Oct. 18, 2013
As the retail industry is one of the top three sectors to be targetted by cyber criminals, the Malaysian retail industry needs to take a less traditional approach to securing its IT, says Fortinet's Eric Chan.

Network security firm Fortinet's technical director for Southeast Asia and Hong Kong Eric Chan speaks with Computerworld Malaysia on some of the challenges and strategies that should be considered by IT security professionals working to secure networks in the country's retail industry.

Eric Chan_Regional Technical Director_FortinetSEA_Hong Kong modified

Photo - Eric Chan Regional Technical Director, Fortinet Southeast Asia & Hong Kong.

What are the key security challenges faced by retail stores in Malaysia today?

The proliferation of Wi-Fi connected tablets for sales service personnel and in-store customer Wi-Fi access are adding to the complexity of the security challenges for major retailers in Malaysia today.  

Globally, the retail industry is currently among the top three industries to be targetted by cyber criminals. The wide variety of wired and wireless technology deployed or being deployed in store together with the increasing sophistication of security threats means retailers need a comprehensive in-depth defence system in place to reduce risks to the business.

Given the squeeze on IT budgets, comprehensive and up-to-date network security measures in short may not always be a priority.

What has been the traditional approach adopted by retail industry on IT security and why are they insufficient?

Individual retail stores often have no resources for IT security or systems administration. Therefore, retailers have traditionally provided different types of security deployments in their stores on top of central security at head office and within the data centre.

Traditionally, retailers have been securing their stores by using either store-based routers with basic security functionality, or an overlay point security solution plugged into the store network, or a private WAN to bring all traffic back to the data centre for inspection. Each of these methods has their drawbacks, either for lack of functionality, inability to scale or excessive costs.

Such systems are not scalable especially when dealing with today's sophisticated threats and complex in-store environments. Multiplying their deployment over hundreds of stores results in very expensive and cumbersome management of security policies and monitoring of events network-wide.

The security information analysis from multiple non-integrated appliances is a time-consuming process that hinders store security by making it too difficult to accurately and regularly access vulnerabilities and guide remediation. In addition, the annual fees for software maintenance, licensing operation escalate with multiple appliances at hundreds of stores. Finally, the multitude of separate boxes represents many more potential points of failure, any one of which could expose the entire network to risk of attack.

As the retail industry moves to using mobile platforms - to meet the demands of online shopping and payment -  what are the key strategies retailers need to adopt to enhance their security?

For retailers with many geographically dispersed shops or stores, having secure network connectivity on-site and linking all sites to head office has become the glue of critical operating processes such as the Point of Sale, accounting, inventory control, pricing, customer relationship management applications and other business services. The in-store and distributed store network is vital, yet invisible, to staff and shoppers alike until it stops working. When the network goes down, commerce transactions halt and cash registers stop ringing.

Retailers in Malaysia are not just looking to increase productivity, but to improve customer service through uninterrupted access to existing and new applications without compromising security and business agility, or stacking up additional costs.

What is needed for today's complex in-store security includes:


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