A Deep Dive into Point of Sale Security

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.

One example of a remote attack is the POSeidon malware which includes a memory scraper and keylogger, so that credit card details and other credentials can be gathered on the infected machine and sent to the hackers. POSeidon gains access through third party remote support tools such as LogMeIn. From this easy access point, attackers then have room to move across a business network by escalating user privileges or making lateral moves.

High risk yet hard to secure, for many businesses POS are a serious security blind spot.

Safeguarding this Complex Environment and Getting Ahead of the Threat Landscape

Firstly, assume your POS environment is compromised. You need to ensure that your data is safe, and the attacker is unable to make movements across your network to access critical assets and core servers. At the top of your list should be preventing an attacker from gaining access to your payment systems, protecting customer cardholder information and sensitive data.

The first step is visibility. While some businesses will wait for operational slowdown or clear evidence of a breach before they look for any anomalies, a complex environment needs full contextual visibility of the ecosystem and all application communication within. Security teams will then be able to accurately identify suspicious activity and where it’s taking place, such as which executables are communicating with the internet where they shouldn’t be. A system that generates reports on high severity incidents can show you what needs to be analyzed further.

Now that you have detail on the communication among the critical applications, you can identify the expected behavior and create tight segmentation policy. Block rules,with application process context, can be used to contain any potential threat, ensuring that any future attackers in the data center would be completely isolated without disrupting business process or having any effect on performance.

The risk goes in both directions. Next, let’s imagine your POS is secure, but it’s your data center that is under attack. Your POS is an obvious target, with links to sensitive data and customer information. Micro-segmentation can protect this valuable environment, and stop an attack getting any further once it’s already in progress, without limiting the communication that your payment system needs to keep business running as usual.

With visibility and clarity, you can create and enforce the right policies, crafted around the strict boundaries that your POS application needs to communicate, and no further. Some examples of policy include:

    • Limiting outgoing internet connections to only the relevant servers and applications
    • Limiting incoming internet connections to only specific machines or labels
    • Building default block rules for ports that are not in use
    • Creating block rules that detail known malicious processes for network connectivity
    • Whitelisting rules to prevent unauthorized apps from running on the POS
    • Create strict allow rules to enable only the processes that should communicate, and block all other potential traffic

Tight policy means that your business can detect any attempt to connect to other services or communicate with an external application, reducing risk and potential damage. With a flexible policy engine, these policies will be automatically copied to any new terminal that is deployed within the network, allowing you to adapt and scale automatically, with no manual moves, changes, or adds slowing down business processes.

Don’t Risk Leaving this Essential Touchpoint Unsecured

Point of Sale solutions are a high-risk open door for attackers to access some of your most critical infrastructure and assets. Without adequate protection, a breach could grind your business to a halt and cost you dearly in both financial damage and brand reputation.

Intelligent micro-segmentation policy can isolate an attacker quickly to stop them doing any further damage, and set up strong rules that keep your network proactively safe against any potential risk. Combined with integrated breach detection capabilities, this technology allows for quick response and isolation of an attacker before the threat is able to spread and create more damage.

Want to learn more about how micro-segmentation can protect your endpoints while hardening the overall security for your data center?

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