Retail Security Not Getting Any Better, BitSight Study Finds

External indicators of network security compromises continue to rise among the majority of retailers, according to data collected by BitSight.

Retail Security B

Despite a year’s worth of major security breaches, retailers continue to be compromised by opportunistic malware, suggesting that the security of their networks and data has failed to improve and may have even worsened, according to data collected by security-ratings firm BitSight.

The research, released on Nov. 18, found that 58 percent of a group of 300 retail companies tracked by BitSight experienced an average drop over the past year of 90 points on the rating firm’s security index. However, of 20 companies known to have had a breach in the last year, three-quarters have improved their security rating, boosting their score by an average of 50 points, the research found.

The data suggest that many retailers are not taking security threats seriously until they are breached, Stephen Boyer, co-founder and chief technology officer of BitSight, told eWEEK.

“When we look at the sector overall, it does not look good,” he said. “But for those that have been breached—either because they have gotten the resources or have ‘gotten religion’—there has been an improvement.”

The BitSight Security Rating measures external indicators—such as known spam servers and botnets operating from within a company’s network—to estimate the degree to which a company appears to manage its security. The company uses a variety of threat intelligence to assign a score between 250 and 900.

While the data does not directly indicate how secure a company may be, it does give a sense of how seriously a company takes security, Boyer said.

“We see that culture really, really matters,” he said. “When you think about these measurements that we see, we just see the external outcomes. But if a company is not cleaning up these compromises, they are unlikely to be getting the more serious stuff as well.”

Evidence of malware generally increased over the past year, BitSight discovered. The number of malware servers, botnet infections and potentially exploited hosts jumped in the past 12 months, the company found. Only the number of spam servers dropped during that period.

In addition, the average length of time it took to remove an infection increased to 1.36 days from 1.26 days, according to BitSight.

Companies did not just have to pay attention to their own networks, but to those of partners as well. Of the 20 companies that had been breached, about one-third of the breaches occurred because of a third party, according to BitSight.

“You really have to think about the entire ecosystem,” Boyer said. “We are finding out, that, even if you have locked your systems down, you could still be breached through a third party.”

Not all retailers showed increasing evidence of breaches, according to BitSight. One-third of retail companies significantly improved their security posture, raising their security rating by an average of 70 points, the firm said.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...