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POS Security

What Is POS Security?

Point-of-sale security (POS security) creates safe environments for customers to make purchases and complete transactions. POS security measures are crucial to prevent unauthorized users from accessing electronic payment systems and reduce the risk of credit card information theft or fraud.

POS hacks represent a major opportunity for cyber criminals. POS applications contain a huge amount of customer data, including credit card information and personally identifiable information (PII) that could be used to steal money or commit wider identity fraud.

By hacking one application, malicious actors can potentially gain access to millions of credit or debit card details that they can either use fraudulently or sell to other hackers or third parties. Hackers can also exploit retailers’ compromised POS applications, which can give them access to vast amounts of customer data, as well as additional applications and systems the retailer operates. 

Organizations must use point-of-sale systems security to protect their applications, prevent unauthorized access, defend against mobile malware, and prevent hackers from attacking their back-end systems.

How POS Security Works

Security is one of the biggest risks of POS system environments. Hackers are constantly on the lookout for holes in security and potential weaknesses that might allow them to launch attacks on POS applications. 

An attack typically begins with a hacker gaining access to a target system by exploiting a vulnerability or using social engineering techniques. They will then install POS malware that is specifically designed to steal card details from POS systems and terminals, which spreads through an organization’s POS system memory to scrape and collect data. The hacker then moves data to another location for aggregation before transferring it to an external location that they can access.

Organizations can defend against these attack vectors by deploying technology that prevents POS malware. This includes whitelisting specific technology to protect against unauthorized practices, using code signing to prevent tampering, and using chip readers so customers do not have to swipe their credit and debit cards and make it more difficult for attackers to replicate card data.

6 Best Practices for POS Security

There are several measures that organizations can adopt and deploy to defend themselves against POS attacks and data breaches, prevent POS malware infection, and improve their POS security. Such measures include whitelisting applications, limiting POS application risks, ensuring POS software is always up to date, monitoring activity in POS systems, using complex and secure passwords, deploying two-factor authentication (2FA), using antivirus software, and considering physical security measures.

Here are six point-of-sale best practices for improving POS security:

Use iPads for POS

Many high-profile POS attacks have occurred as a result of malware being loaded into a POS system’s memory. This enables the hacker to upload malware applications and steal data without being spotted by users or retailers. But, crucially, this attack method requires a second application to be running. 

As a result, Apple’s iOS systems can help prevent POS attacks because the operating system (OS) can only fully run one application at any time, whereas Windows devices rely on multiple applications at the same time. Organizations can, therefore, use iPad POS solutions to run their POS systems and reduce the chances of POS attacks. 

Use End-to-End Encryption

One way for customer data to never become exposed to hackers is through encryption. Encrypting credit card and other sensitive data as soon as the POS device receives the data and when it gets sent to the POS software server will ensure it is never vulnerable, regardless of where and how hackers install malware.

Secure Your POS with an Anti-Virus

Antivirus software allows organizations to secure their systems and prevent POS attacks. It prevents malware from infiltrating organizations’ systems by scanning devices to detect anomalous or problematic applications, files, and user activity that need to be blocked or removed. 

An antivirus alerts organizations when there is a potential issue and enables them to initiate the cleansing process to guarantee any present malware does not result in the loss or theft of data.

Lock Down Your Systems

The chances of employees using their organizations’ POS devices to initiate an attack are relatively low, but there is a potential for malicious insider activity or human error. Users could steal, lose, or accidentally misplace devices that have POS software installed, which could allow anyone that picks up the device to view or steal customer data.

Organizations need to lock down their systems to avoid these risks. This involves ensuring employees lock down their devices at the end of every working day, diligently keeping track of every corporate device throughout each day, and securing devices in locations that only a few trusted individuals have access to.

Avoid Connecting to External Networks

Sophisticated hackers can compromise POS systems remotely. This is typically possible through systems that can connect to external networks, which hackers will look to infiltrate through software that remains dormant until it connects to a POS system. 

Organizations, therefore, need to avoid connecting to external networks and ensure their systems remain local, internal, and secure. They should look to restrict the handling of business-critical tasks, such as transactions and payment processing, to secure corporate networks.

Be PCI-compliant

Putting measures in place to manage and protect POS systems is crucial, but organizations also need to comply with the stipulations of data privacy and protection regulations. This includes the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which regulates security standards for any organization that handles credit cards from major providers. Organizations must comply on all transactions carried out on card readers, online shopping carts, networks, routers, servers, and paper files.

PCI DSS is mandated by financial organizations and administered by the PCI Security Standards Council, which is responsible for increasing cardholder data controls to reduce credit card fraud. The Council suggests that organizations eliminate cardholder data where possible, as well as maintain communication with major financial organizations and credit card providers to reduce fraud or theft issues. 

It also advises businesses to regularly monitor and take an inventory of their processes and IT assets to ensure they detect potential vulnerabilities as quickly as possible.

What Is the Need for POS Security?

POS security measures are crucial as data volumes increase exponentially alongside the growth in known and unknown attack vectors and security threats. The data held within POS systems is hugely valuable and could be highly damaging for organizations and their customers if it is lost or stolen. 

Organizations that rely on POS systems must prioritize POS security to protect their sensitive customer data and prevent the breach of customer payment information. They must introduce measures that protect POS systems and safeguard customer transactions, and provide training for employees on the risks of POS security policies and incidents.

How Fortinet Can Help?

Fortinet offers specific POS security solutions for retailers to safeguard their data and users and ensure they provide secure transactions. The Fortinet Retail Cybersecurity offering protects retailers against sophisticated, advanced attack methods while providing customers with positive shopping experiences.

Fortinet solutions provide the visibility, automation, proactive threat intelligence, and high-performance cybersecurity approach required to protect POS systems and ensure PCI DSS compliance. They include products like the Fortinet Security Fabric, which ensures centralized control and visibility across networks and cloud systems, and FortiGate next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), which provide advanced protection across organizations’ IT environments.


What is a POS attack?

A point-of-sale (POS) attack is a cyberattack targeting POS applications and systems that store or process customers’ credit card details or transactions.

What should you do when POS is down?

A POS system going down means customers cannot carry out transactions and will result in them losing trust in a retailer. Organizations need to deploy POS security technology with monitoring and incident response features that alert IT and security teams to an issue, detect and flag threats, and provide real-time response.

What is the importance of implementing security procedures when operating a POS?

Any POS system in operation needs to be secured to prevent hackers from stealing critical data, customer information, sensitive financial details, and committing wider fraud and identity theft. Organizations that rely on POS systems need to prioritize POS security to protect sensitive customer data, prevent the breach of customer payment information, protect POS systems, and safeguard customer transactions.