Many businesses think of their Point of Sale (POS) systems as an extension of a cashier behind a sales desk. But with multiple risk factors to consider, such as network connectivity, open ports, internet access and communication with the most sensitive data a company handles, POS solutions are more accurately an extension of a company’s data center, a remote branch of their critical applications. This being considered, they should be seen as a high-threat environment, which means that they need a targeted security strategy.
Understanding a Unique Attack Surface
Distributed geographically, POS systems can be found in varied locations at multiple branches, making it difficult to keep track of each device individually and to monitor their connections as a group. They cover in-store terminals, as well as public kiosks and self-service stations in places like shopping malls, airports, and hospitals. Multiple factors, from a lack of resources to logistical difficulties, can make it near impossible to secure these devices at the source or react quickly enough in case of a vulnerability or a breach. Remote IT teams will often have a lack of visibility when it comes to being able to accurately see data and communication flows. This creates blind spots which prevent a full understanding of the open risks across a spread-out network. Threats are exacerbated further by the vulnerabilities of old operating systems used by many POS solutions.
Underestimating the extent of this risk could be a devastating oversight. POS solutions are connected to many of a business’s main assets, from customer databases to credit card information and internal payment systems, to name a few. The devices themselves are very exposed, as they are accessible to anyone, from a waiter in a restaurant to a passer-by in a department store. This makes them high-risk for physical attacks such as downloading a malicious application through USB, as well as remote attacks like exploiting the terminal through exposed interfaces, Recently, innate vulnerabilities have been found in mobile POS solutions from vendors that include PayPal, Square and iZettle, because of their use of Bluetooth and third-party mobile apps. According to the security researchers who uncovered the vulnerabilities, these “could allow unscrupulous merchants to raid the accounts of customers or attackers to steal credit card data.”
In order to allow system administrators remote access for support and maintenance, POS are often connected to the internet, leaving them exposed to remote attacks, too. In fact, 62% of attacks on POS environments are completed through remote access. For business decision makers, ensuring that staff are comfortable using the system needs to be a priority, which can make security a balancing act. A straightforward on-boarding process, a simple UI, and flexibility for non-technical staff are all important factors, yet can often open up new attack vectors while leaving security considerations behind.