Neglecting point of sale (POS) system vulnerabilities endangers your customers’ sensitive financial information and leaves significant damage to your business’ reputation. Before it happens, strengthen your POS systems by locating the areas that are most susceptible to malicious attacks.
What is a point of sale system and how does it work?
A point of sale system is a form of electronic equipment intended for accepting payments from customers when checking out products. From the latter’s perspective, it’s a cash register, stationary credit card reader, computer, or tablet — anything that's used to scan and record product details.
But POS systems are more complicated than that. Other than the visible device at the checkout counter, there’s a unified, multichannel network of retail applications and equipment running behind the scenes to keep your sales transactions efficient.
Traditionally, legacy POS systems run on closed networks and store data on a local server. To access its information, you need to be physically present on site. Its central management, on the other hand, is provided through the head office of the solutions provider. While it’s recommended for organizations dealing with highly confidential information, small businesses can do better with its modern versions.
These new versions often come in the form of cloud-based POS software where transaction data are hosted on web-based, third-party servers. It allows you to access important data wherever you go as long as you have an internet connection. You can also integrate it with your accounting software to make your retail accounting processes more seamless.
However, the more sophisticated a system gets, the more vulnerable it becomes to attacks.
Point of sale system vulnerabilities to watch out for
Point of sale systems for small businesses are more vulnerable compared to the solutions utilized by big companies. And that means you should be more vigilant of POS vulnerabilities.
Becoming aware of the weak points of your POS system allows you to strengthen its security. Some of the vulnerabilities you should be aware of are the following:
- Old operating systems (OS): POS with outdated operating systems are susceptible to attacks because no more patches (i.e., a piece of software designed to fix security vulnerabilities and other bugs) were issued when newer versions were released.
- Lenient security: Considered as the weakest link of the system, leaving your device unattended poses a major risk to your data security.
- Endpoint payment systems: Some mobile POS machines have security flaws that allow attackers to transfer arbitrary code using Bluetooth or other mobile apps.
- Software bugs: A common concern to almost all types of software, the inability to track bugs can result in erratic software performance to downtimes.
- Absence of point-to-point encryption (P2PE): The lack of P2PE exposes your customers' credit card number — a piece of critical information that network-level encryption failed to encrypt.
- The connection between the POS device and the store server: Implementing a lenient protection mechanism is an invitation for attackers to hack your system.
- Public network connection: Public network connection enables unauthorized access to your POS system.
Regularly updating your software, encrypting all pertinent information, using a firewall, enabling two-factor authentication for remote systems, and auditing your connections and accesses are some of the best practices to protect your POS system.
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What happens when your transaction data get compromised?
Hackers love vulnerabilities. It’s the gateway allowing them to exploit their victims’ crucial data. Without tight security measures and contingency plans, it can leave serious damages not only to the business but also to their customers.
And for hackers, POS devices are easy targets.
In a normal setting, your device is located in an exposed area, making it accessible to anyone. When left unattended, hackers can easily execute physical attacks by downloading malicious programs using flash drives or taking advantage of the exposed surfaces to infiltrate your system.
If you’re using a vulnerable POS device, hackers can access your business’ important digital assets including your customers’ personal details and credit card information. Worst, they can even turn off your POS terminals which can cause business interruptions.
But how about remotely managed devices?
It turns out they aren’t spared from data breaches either. Aside from physical attacks, there are other risk factors worth considering including internet access and network connectivity.
Once hackers get ahold of your business’ critical pieces of information, they can use it to carry out heinous crimes such as creating virtual credit cards, manipulating the price of your products, or selling the data to the black market.
This is why when running a business, never let your guard down. Otherwise, villains will see it as an open invitation to launch their attacks.