Understanding POS Security: Protecting Your Business and Customer Data

Published on : 13 May 2024


protect business and customer data

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) 2023 Business Impact Report, 73% of small business owners in the US reported a cyber-attack within the previous year, underlining the growing popularity of small businesses as a target among malicious actors. Given this recent wave of cyberattacks, all small businesses must do their part to secure their Point of Sale (POS) systems from unauthorized parties.

If you run a small business, keeping your POS system secure is a must, not just a matter of simple data protection but also one that ties into your business’s credibility in an increasingly cashless era. Let’s look at some best practices you’ll want to implement to keep payment data safe from cybercriminals:

  1. Work with PCI DSS Compliant Vendors

While the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is not a legal requirement, it is a sign that an organization or a product is up to par when it comes to combating common cyber threats. To keep your business secure, only engage with payment processors and vendors that comply with PCI DSS. This will help ensure that the solutions you use contain the features that are most needed to ward off unauthorized access to payment data.

 2. Don’t Allow Swiped Transactions

You may want to avoid processing older magnetic stripe cards in favor of Near Field Communication (NFC) and EMV chip cards. While it’s still technically possible to process traditional swipe cards, malicious parties have found it easy to circumvent their security, which makes accepting them a clear risk.

 3. Check POS Machines for Tampering

 One common tactic employed by data thieves is to attach data skimming devices onto legitimate POS hardware. When used, these devices will collect payment details without the merchant’s knowledge, compromising customer data security.

To solve this problem, you must routinely inspect all POS hardware for signs of tampering, looking out for strange wires or additional devices attached to card readers or terminals. Inspection schedules should not be announced in case the tampering is the result of an inside job. Staff must also be encouraged to report any suspicious activity or irregularities with the POS devices immediately.

 4. Implement Strong Employee Training

 While you should definitely be paying attention to the technologies you use for payment systems, malicious parties will also be trying to compromise the human side of your POS security. Many cyberattacks specifically target people through phishing and other kinds of social engineering.

Solving this issue means empowering your employees to understand the nature of today’s cyber threats. Employee training should include information on spotting likely security threats like malicious emails or social engineering attacks. Once your employees know what to look out for, potential attackers will have a much tougher time gaining ingress into your business’s data.

 5. Encourage the use of Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

 Decades of experience show that passwords only provide a small amount of security. Hackers have often succeeded in breaching password-protected systems through brute force attacks, guessing, or using “keyloggers” that record keystrokes.

Implementing 2FA adds an extra layer of security to a POS system by requiring users to prove their credentials through other means such as one-time passwords on other devices or through biometrics. Using at least one more authentication method alongside passwords effectively prevents hackers from employing common methods to bypass password protection.

Given the low level of security offered by simple passwords, all employees, especially those with access to sensitive data or system settings, should enable 2FA on their accounts. This additional step helps prevent unauthorized access even if login credentials are compromised, keeping your data secure.

 6. Install Security Patches

 The older a system remains unchanged, the higher the likelihood that cybercriminals will find a way to breach it. Keeping your POS software updated regularly will help ensure that it has the latest security patches, diminishing the odds of any attempt to breach your system.

 7. Control Access to Your POS

Sloppy access control is another major cause of POS breaches among smaller businesses, as it massively expands their potential vulnerabilities. As a rule, employees should only be granted access to the necessary tools, features, and information that they need to do their jobs.

To limit those who have access to sensitive data—and limit losses in case of a successful attack—implement security levels and data compartmentalization within your organization. Additionally, restrict web access on POS terminals to prevent employees from falling into malware or phishing traps accidentally.

Secure Your Business’s Future with Better POS Security

A successful cyberattack will not only compromise data but also damage the credibility of your business, seriously jeopardizing its growth potential. Securing your POS system is only one part of developing a strong security posture but it is a necessary one, given how important payment details are for customers and businesses alike. With these best practices, your small business will be more ready than most when it comes to taking on the serious threats posed by today’s malicious actors.

Narendra Sahoo
Narendra Sahoo

Narendra Sahoo (PCI QPA, PCI QSA, PCI SSF ASSESSOR, CISSP, CISA, CRISC, 27001 LA) is the Founder and Director of VISTA InfoSec, a global Information Security Consulting firm, based in the US, Singapore & India. Mr. Sahoo holds more than 25 years of experience in the IT Industry, with expertise in Information Risk Consulting, Assessment, & Compliance services. VISTA InfoSec specializes in Information Security audit, consulting and certification services which include GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA, NESA, MAS-TRM, PCI DSS Compliance & Audit, PCI PIN, SOC2 Compliance & Audit, PDPA, PDPB to name a few. The company has for years (since 2004) worked with organizations across the globe to address the Regulatory and Information Security challenges in their industry. VISTA InfoSec has been instrumental in helping top multinational companies achieve compliance and secure their IT infrastructure.