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Retail becomes the number one target of cybercriminals

We recently did a poll on Twitter to find out which sector people believed was hit the hardest by malware attacks in 2015. The options were finance, telecoms, retail and healthcare. Unsurprisingly, given the 2014 data, most people (48%) selected finance. This, however, was not the case in 2015. According to the 2016 Global Threat Intelligence Report, it was, in fact, retail that was hit the hardest last year. This is unsurprising in the Asia Pacific region, given the growth of ecommerce in retail over the past few years. Consider what Retail Asia has to say on this surge:

With a high number of mobile users and rising middle classes in China, India and Indonesia, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) e-commerce market is surging to become, for the first time, the largest digital retail market in the world — and growing 10% faster than the worldwide average rate. APAC retail e-commerce sales is anticipated to increase to 20.4% of total APAC retail sales by 2019 from 10.2% last year. This is in comparison to a projected 12.8% worldwide average for 2019 from 7.4% in 2015.


The retail and financial sectors process large volumes of personal information and credit card data. Gaining access to these organisations enables cybercriminals to monetise sensitive data such as credit card details in the black market, which validates that cybercriminals are motivated by the rewards of financial crime.  As such, retail companies are becoming increasingly popular targets as most process large volumes of personal information, including credit card data, in highly distributed environments with many endpoints and point-of-service devices. Such diverse environments can be difficult to protect.


Retail organisations experienced nearly three times as many cyberattacks as those in the finance sector which was top of the list of cyberattacks on organisations in the 2015 report. Cyberattacks on financial industry dropped significantly to fourteenth position. The fact that cybercriminals have shifted their focus from traditional financial markets to targeting the retail sector.

Types of attacks:

  • Malware: Retail clients experienced 8% of detected malware, making retail the fifth most affected industry
  • Anomalous activity: Includes privileged access attempts, exploitation software, and other unusual activity
  • Brute force attacks: A trial-and-error method used to obtain information such as a user password or personal identification number (PIN)

2016 incidents by vertical market:

Retail clients experienced the highest number of attacks per client, as shown in the ‘Attacks by sector’ section. The financial sector declined approximately 10% from last year’s observations. Most of the spear phishing attacks previously discussed focused on the retail sector and help account for the increase in incident response in this area.


Most concerning of all the findings of the 2016 report is that retailers are largely rely on dated security technologies and have not kept pace by investing in the maturity of their security programmes in line with the evolving threat landscape. This disparity exposes retailers to financial and reputation losses, and incentivises cybercriminals to accelerate their campaigns targeting businesses in this space. Find out what you can do to secure your organisation by reading the 2016 Global Threat Intelligence Report.

Guido Crucq

Guido is the Group SVP – Security for Dimension Data, and previously the General Manager for the Security Business...