Don't Get Breached

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Don't Get Breached

By Kent Woodruff, CradlePoint - 10/14/2014

2014 started with a bang as the ramifications and breadth of Target Corp.'s security breach came to light. Word of many more breaches followed, including the latest: Kmart.

Each breach is different. The Target breach revealed the challenges of maintaining a secure monolithic network within the changing retail environment, and the value of a sound wireless strategy at the point of configuration to create individual networks.

Parallel networks are redefining how organizations deploy and manage their networks, secure their data and capitalize on the benefits associated with 4G LTE at the distributed enterprise level. Today’s convenience stores are at the forefront of parallel networking.

With limited or no IT support on the ground, many convenience stores operate at the edge of the corporate network. Lack of resources and constrained budgets have convenience stores across the nation evaluating alternative technologies, including wireless, to meet consumers' changing expectations.

To keep pace and streamline operational efforts, individual stores are tasked with implementing and supporting a variety of third-party applications, including security, digital signage, point-of-sale (POS) systems, HVAC, customer and employee Wi-Fi, etc. The difficulty of delivering secure Wi-Fi for all of the Internet-enabled applications is compounded if the connection is from a single source and parsed from one network.

To address this, many convenience stores have migrated toward wireless for their primary and failover network solution. The speeds afforded by 4G/3G LTE are as fast as and less expensive than traditional wired environments and allow for more flexibility for the individual store operator to introduce third-party applications.

For many convenience stores that have a distributed footprint, networks can be remotely managed through the cloud. Many convenience stores gain additional savings as networks are supported by a centralized IT group. 

The use of 4G LTE also provides another benefit, although not often discussed. 4G enables parallel networking, the ability to create and manage individual networks.

Parallel networking’s impact is dramatic for a typical convenience store chain. In the wake of Target’s breach and the subsequent pivot attack that compromised the security of consumer data, many large convenience stores are mandating that third-party applications provide their own networks. The concept of "Bring Your Own Network" supports the industry’s broader movement toward parallel networking.

Parallel networking enables companies with distributed locations and storefronts to take full advantage of all the money-saving and customer-pleasing services they want, without putting the security of their financial and customer information at risk.

Parallel networking eliminates questions posed to IT professionals such as: How can I take the non-essential or the non-secure vendor applications off my secure network? How can I simplify my network so that it's easier to monitor, easier to lock down and easier to prevent hackers from crossing over from one application to another?

By deploying a parallel networking strategy that puts the onus on the third-party vendors to bring their own networks, convenience stores are able to offer the latest technology and service without fear that their solutions will be breached from a non-secure network.

Front and center in the convenience store industry in regards to parallel networking is United Oil Co., a large convenience store chain in Southern California with more than 125 storefronts.

United Oil had been using DSL for its primary, and wireless as its failover connection. The costs for broadband service can vary dramatically — two identical gas stations across the street from one another could incur anywhere from $50 to $150 per month in Internet service charges.  

Mobile broadband was appealing, but the company needed to ensure it had sufficient bandwidth to run the many custom applications, including a cloud-based time keeping system, a centralized back-office system used to control POS and product promotions, and an inventory control system that it had developed in-house. 

United Oil, after evaluating the benefits vs. traditional broadband, cut the cord and moved toward a wireless network strategy. In doing so, United Oil created an ideal situation to isolate its operational networks, while creating individual networks for its other customer-facing applications.

The retail environment is changing quickly. Wireless is at the forefront of how organizations are engaging with consumers and supporting the operational needs of their storefronts. Parallel networking allows companies to achieve the most of their networks and create secure environments that allow for growth in a secure and positive manner. 

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News