The Biggest Security Threats to Retail in 2021 & How to Defend Against Them

Security integrators can serve as a valuable asset to their retail clients when it comes to defending against credit card fraud, cyber-attacks and burglary.

2020 was a year of immense and dramatic change across the retail industry, with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in disruption and a need for adaptability. Online retail experienced a global boom, generating close to 22 billion visitors to retail sites in June 2020. Compared to 16.07 billion global visits in January that same year, this is a dramatic and explosive increase.

This does not mean that traditional brick-and-mortar stores will be disappearing from our streets — many businesses are still operating on a face-to-face basis. However, with new payment methods and the combined use of physical and e-commerce shopping, issues surrounding credit card fraud, third-party payment services, and cybersecurity have the potential to affect any business.

It is therefore vital to remain conscious and aware of how these issues can arise and what security integrators can do to protect businesses from them.

The Biggest Threats to Retail in 2021

The adaptability that the retail industry learned through 2020 needs to be utilized when approaching the biggest threats to retail in 2021. It’s important to encourage businesses to prepare for various different eventualities, and this applies to addressing security threats as well.

Threat modelling assists in developing a deeper understanding of how different applications and methods function, and how they can be best used for each business.

When approaching the most prominent security threats such as credit card fraud, issues with third-party payment and cybersecurity, it is vital to ensure that your security teams understand the processes in which these methods are used, and how they can be exploited.


Cybersecurity has rightfully attracted more focus following the events of 2020.  The cyber and e-commerce space has become a new extension or a heavier influencing factor for many businesses.

For security providers, this may lead to a heavier emphasis on online security to protect transactions and sensitive data. With this in mind, it is important to develop the already existing understanding of cyberspace and how it relates to the security of both stores and e-stores.

Five of the most common cybersecurity threats are:

  • Phishing  the act of enticing individuals into opening malicious emails, links or documents in order to install malicious software (which can result in giving cybercriminals access to personal and financial information).
  • DDoS attacks — an attack with the intention of overwhelming your servers with requests in order to take your website offline.
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks where attackers listen in on user communication with your website with the potential to intercept personal information.
  • Malware software that can be inserted into your web pages or files to steal sensitive data including personal and financial information.
  • Ransomware —  a form of malware that acts to prevent you from accessing your corporate data or devices, demanding a payment to reverse it.

Businesses may also face cybersecurity threats in the form of credit card fraud and third-party payment services. These can affect both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores.

How Should You Deal With Cybersecurity Threats?

To deal with cybersecurity threats you must be as prepared as possible to deal with any situation. Assess the unique risks that could be presented to each individual business and ensure that they have developed clear and actionable procedures such as an incident response management plan.

All employees must be trained to handle these procedures and should be made familiar with the management plans of each business. You must also ensure that all employees are educated about the basics of how these cyber-attacks usually present themselves so threats can be identified before a potential attack is launched. Encrypt sensitive data where applicable, and always restore data as soon as possible. 

Credit Card Fraud 

Credit card fraud is on the rise and is a growing concern for many in the retail sector. It is particularly easy for credit card fraud to occur when neither the customer nor the card needs to be present to make a purchase — for example, when purchasing online.

One potential method to protect from fraud is encouraging businesses to use payment systems that require security codes for credit card purchases in e-commerce stores. Another method is to ensure that customer transaction alerts have been set up.

Transaction alerts can help improve the opportunity for the detection of fraudulent activity by notifying the cardholder by email, text, or banking app that payment has taken place. Cardholder information should be encrypted, and where possible, some form of device identification should take place so that if a new device is used for payment, customers can be contacted for verification.

Third-Party Payment Services and Software

Using third-party payment services can be an attractive option for many businesses as it is a fast and economical method of setting up transactions. However, there is an emerging issue with a lack of security.

The business is not protected against fraudulent transactions, and some of the ability to control and protect sensitive information is taken out of the hands of the business and placed under the responsibility of the third-party payment software. This makes it vital for additional security to be put in place surrounding payments.

When protecting retail businesses from the potential risks of third-party payments, do not shy away from taking more direct measures to check the success and accuracy of payments. Transactions can be verified independently without having to rely entirely on the third-party to identify any issues such as fraud. By taking an active role in monitoring transactions that go through third-party software the retail business in question is more comprehensively protected.

Other Threats to Retail: Burglary

Not all of the threats presented to businesses are in the cybersecurity realm. It is important not to let cybersecurity overshadow other problems such as theft.

The events of the pandemic have meant that retailers have been less physically present in their stores, potentially leaving them more vulnerable to these risks and looking for protection from security services. This has made it all the more important to invest in physical security measures such as live-streaming video cameras, smart locks and burglar alarms, which can all be integrated into a proven security strategy.

All individual businesses have unique security requirements — for retailers with more than one location or large quantities of stock in storage, smart security devices may be appropriate to use. For example, smartphone integration with video surveillance systems exist so that cameras can be checked any time, from any location.

The evolution of AI  has also resulted in security measures that extend beyond the simple recording functions of conventional security cameras. AI intrusion detection can identify when intruders have strayed into protected zones, and trigger alarms accordingly. There are even AI systems that provide real-time intervention and the ability to issue alerts within seconds.

Looking Beyond

Retail continues to evolve in reaction to the uncertainties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to reflect on security and its many forms, and how it can affect both our more traditional brick-and-mortar stores and ever-evolving e-commerce opportunities.

Although we cannot be certain of the future, potential security threats should be anticipated by developing a threat model and incident response plans. These help to manage and predict security attacks. Efforts should also be made to educate employees on the nature of each business’s individual security risks so they can be identified and avoided wherever possible.

Tomasz Borys is the VP of Marketing for Deep Sentinel, an AI-powered security provider with surveillance provided by live guards.

Check out our comprehensive guide to intrusion detection here!

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