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A Retailer's Stress Load During Black Friday and Cyber Monday

It's about that time again for shoppers to go crazy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While some may find these two holidays to be a fun, exciting time, others may find these days quite stressful. Retailers are plagued with the burden of making sure their systems are running properly and remain high-functioning on busy days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  

Below are technology experts providing insight on just how important keeping an IT infrastructure up and running is to ensure success for retailers.

Gary Watson, CTO of StorCentric and Founder of Nexsan

"Seasonal shopping days such as Black Friday test the peak capacity of IT resources, often to breaking point. With many retailers expecting to see a rise in profits - and more customers coming through the door, either physically or digitally - everything right down to the fulfilment is tested. With this in mind, it's important to ensure any IT environment can meet the retailer's needs and isn't being stretched beyond its limits. This also means testing the elasticity and capacity demands and ensuring there are adequate cost control measures in place when it comes to scalability."   - Gary Watson - CTO of StorCentric and Founder of Nexsan

Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, tech evangelist, Zerto

"Avoiding downtime is something that should always be top of mind for all businesses, however it's especially important over the Black Friday weekend. At this time of year, retailers feel the pressure to ensure 100% uptime to serve an ‘always-available' customer culture. Last year, a record-breaking $5.03 billion worth of sales were made on Black Friday and, with a similar turnout expected this year, retailers will need to be ensure they stay online to capitalize on the opportunity.

When it comes to managing this high demand surge over consumer holidays like Black Friday, establishing a multi-cloud environment can help make sure your website isn't vulnerable to suddenly dropping offline. Indeed, having the freedom to move to, from and between any combination of clouds, including Azure, AWS and the hundreds of smaller local cloud providers available, can aid retailers in coping with the huge spike of traffic and sales, regardless of any challenges that third-party cloud suppliers may be experiencing. The risk is spread across multiple platforms, minimizing the possibility of vendor downtime.

A lot of demand is placed on retail IT systems during the peak holiday season, so the ability to quickly, easily and safely move workloads to, from and between different types of cloud environment can significantly improve system performance, even in the midst of peak holiday sales season," said Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, tech evangelist at Zerto.

Todd Krautkremer, chief marketing officer, Cradlepoint

"Retailers need to transform their wide-area networks to provide always-on access from brick and mortar stores to remote pop-up stores and kiosks and provide greater bandwidth to handle the increase in traffic. The good news is that today's 4G LTE wireless networks are more pervasive, delivering faster speeds than ever before. Over 75% of the world's top retail brands are already using LTE to provide non-stop connectivity to mission-critical applications and the cloud, to isolate and securely connect ‘store-within-a-store' deployments, and to provide anywhere, anytime connectivity for pop-ups and seasonal stores. The cost, availability, and speed of today's 4G LTE services make it attainable for retailers of all sizes, allowing them to leverage cloud applications to reduce costs and improve customer experience. And because it helps keeps their critical systems online, they can avoid having Black Friday turn into a ‘black eye,'" said Todd Krautkremer, chief marketing officer at Cradlepoint.  

Neil Barton, CTO, WhereScape

"As Black Friday approaches, retailers are making critical decisions given the data they have at hand to understand the likely purchasing habits of buyers during this often high-intensity spending season. By analyzing the data patterns from previous years, retailers are able to both optimize their supply chain to meet demand without over-ordering, as well as be ready to offer significant personalized sales incentives and discounts for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers. Additionally, real-time data collection and analysis during these mission-critical events will enable online retailers to respond quickly if any unexpected deviations should occur to limit risk or better capitalize on opportunity.

All this is enabled through data warehousing and a savvy big data strategy, powered by automation. With these, IT teams can commit to quickly delivering the data-driven insights that retail leaders will need to ensure they maximize the revenue gains available this holiday season," said Neil Barton, CTO at WhereScape.

Jeff Keyes, director of marketing, Plutora

"Black Friday is notoriously crucial for companies like Amazon due to the spike in traffic and revenue generated across the site. For companies like these that service entire businesses online, it is imperative that they're able to keep up with the high volume of traffic that Black Friday entails. If they are unable to keep up, there's a loss of brand credibility, productivity and revenue - revenue that is likely to be lost to the competition.

With this in mind, mean time to recovery (MTTR) should be at the forefront of companies' minds as we approach this holiday season. If these companies only experience downtime once every year, but it takes an entire day to recover, consumers won't care that the issue has not happened at any other time all year. All that will be talked about is the long recovery time. But if the site goes down five times on one day for less than one second, it would hardly be noticeable.

To ensure a lower MTTR, organizations should incorporate failure planning into every level of service delivery - creating redundancies in every layer of the application delivery stack. Plan for failures anywhere and everywhere. There are even open source tool sets created to induce chaos into the infrastructure such as the Simian Army. Reduce time of delivery for software updates utilizing continuous deployment with significant automated tests so that patches are less likely to introduce further problems," said Jeff Keyes, director of marketing at Plutora.

Stephen Moore, chief security strategist, Exabeam

"Black Friday 2017 saw U.S. retailers earn a record $7.9 billion, an increase of nearly 18% from the year prior. This day, combined with Cyber Monday, are critical events for the retail sector, and the ramifications of a malicious intrusion on the company's network could be devastating. For example, studies show that the global average cost of a data breach now sits at $3.86 million, however these reported numbers are misunderstood, do not represent the complete costs, and are greatly underreported.

This holiday season, adversaries could be after the massive influx of credit card data-- or even just looking to disrupt the business, sometimes as a distraction or to make a point, and negatively impact its profits. No matter the motivation, the cost of an outage will only be amplified by the increasing traffic of these massive sales. The transactional volume at the end of Q4 often makes or breaks most retailers - and adversaries know this. Some retailers, unofficially, have standing orders to keep systems operational and available even if it means allowing the attack to persist, as such the defender must have the tools to continually track the adversary. With this in mind, we must arm the defender, who is already exhausted, with an edge to gain visibility and "buy" back time. Behavioral modeling, advanced analytics and machine learning, when aligned to the goals of the defender and consumer can play an important role in protecting retailers' businesses and profits year-round.

Detecting adversaries by establishing a baseline of normal behavior for all accounts and assets in the organization - including communication patterns, ports and protocols used, and operating activity - automatically identifies risky device activity that may be indicative of a security incident or compromise. This helps to protect retailers and consumers from criminal activity, breaches and insider threats, even during the busiest times of year," said Stephen Moore, chief security strategist at Exabeam.

Trevor Bidle, vice president of information security and compliance officer, US Signal

"Throughout 2018, 81 percent of organizations witnessed an increase in cybersecurity challenges, according to US Signal's Security ‘Health of the Nation' Survey. And during the holiday shopping season, cybersecurity attacks only become more likely. With the flood of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, this is prime time for hackers, prepared to lure unsuspecting shoppers into cyberattacks masked as deals, steal credit card data or simply cause disruption to retail businesses during one of their most profitable times. For instance, ransomware where hackers lock down retailers' systems and demand Bitcoin payments to release them-and DDoS attacks-where they render companies' online services unavailable by overwhelming them with traffic from multiple sources-are increasing in size and frequency and can ultimately impact the bottom line.

To protect your organization during the holiday shopping season, here are a few security measures to help:

  1. Get defensive - Up-to-date firewalls, ad-blockers and script-blockers in browsers and email security products can block known malicious senders and strip known malicious attachment files types.
  2. Employ strong password security - Use strong passwords, making them as long and as random as possible. Change passwords frequently, an avoid reusing them.
  3. Avoid links in emails - Never click links within an email and instead go directly to the webpage to verify the deal. Be sure to only use legitimate and recognized websites for holiday purchases
  4. Develop an incident response plan - An incident response plan is critical for helping your organization recognize and respond to a DDoS or ransomware attack quickly. It is essential to lay out your defense plans, ahead of time," said Trevor Bidle, vice president of information security and compliance officer at US Signal.

Setu Kulkarni, vice president, strategy and business development, WhiteHat Security

"The original concept of Black Friday (dating back nearly 60 years) was originally confined to a single day. But as online shopping has become a mainstay of retail, this peak retail event has expanded to the entire week prior, and spills over into the following week with Cyber Monday. With the aid of web applications, API-based B2B partnerships and mobile apps, the volume of shopping especially during the Black Friday ‘season' continues to grow by billions of dollars on a yearly basis. Online shopping has allowed retailers to reach deep within the buyers' pockets to increase revenues exponentially while the number of shoppers has only grown linearly. This is probably the biggest testament to the impact applications have had on the retail sector and consumer shopping habits.

Applications are key to drive increasing revenues on a yearly basis, and retailers can't produce these applications fast enough. In the need for speed in application development and deployment, organizations take short-cuts where possible. User experience and performance are the obvious non-negotiables, but what about security? Recent data shows that the window of exposure (time duration for which there is at least one exploitable serious vulnerability) for retail applications remains high, with over 60 percent of all retail applications having one or more serious vulnerabilities open throughout the year. Clearly, security is being overlooked in the endeavor to get better, faster applications before the holiday season hits. This is unacceptable as the onus of security should not lie with the end customer. Retailers have the opportunity to do right by their customers by providing a more secure online shopping experience. In this day and age, where one breach could lead to millions of dollars in monetary and reputational losses, retailers can not only mitigate these losses but also create market differentiation for themselves by providing a secure online shopping experience," said Setu Kulkarni, vice president, strategy and business development at WhiteHat Security.

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Published Wednesday, November 21, 2018 7:22 AM by David Marshall
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