Franchisees are a popular target for hackers. Here are steps you can take

to thwart an attack.

By Saylor Frase

Many franchise organizations have hundreds, or even thousands of locations around the world, all with varying degrees of sensitive customer information. Criminals make franchisees a high priority because of brand visibility and the fact that franchise locations typically don’t have the same resources  – budgets, expertise and technologies – invested in their security efforts as do corporate franchisors. Hackers hunt for the weakest link in the highest-value target, and unfortunately, franchisees fits the bill. 


Not only does an attack harm customers, but it also can do serious damage to the brand. If the corporate franchisor and other franchisees do everything right to remain secure, but a fellow franchise does not and gets hacked, everyone will suffer from the same diminishment of brand trust. Cybersecurity is too serious of a matter to be taken lightly, and it’s important for franchisees to have strategies in place before an incident occurs. What follows are steps we recommend to prevent a breach.


Maintain a Program

Many corporate franchisors don’t evaluate security risks or review a data security policy. This should be done continually to determine what type of information the company is collecting and how, and what steps are being taken to keep this information safe and support compliance efforts. This program can also track the deployment of common security controls listed below.


Segment the Network

Traditionally, most businesses share the same network, but by segmenting your networks you’re essentially splitting your computer network into smaller ones and separating them from one another. This limits your overall threat exposure by not sharing traffic. This means that if one computer becomes comprised in one segment, it doesn’t give the hacker access to networks in other segments. 


Maintain an Inventory

Understanding the devices and applications that are used on a network allows security analysts to discover rogue devices and applications that are not authorized for network communication. This information can then be used to correlate vulnerability and network security data to pinpoint the locations that are most at risk.


Identify Vulnerabilities

Proactive vulnerability scanning of internal and external assets provides a wealth of information to security analysts. With this information, security experts can correlate network connections, security vulnerabilities and attacks to pinpoint actionable security threats and identify the devices and applications that have a higher risk.


Endpoint Security

Endpoint security is a method of protecting your network when accessed through remote devices. When deployed, it should include an anti-malware application and monitor file changes using file integrity monitoring (FIM) and monitor the collection of system and application event logs. These technologies need to be well integrated and lightweight to ensure performance of endpoints is not hampered, while maintaining the correct level of security. 


Analyze Data

Begin with the perimeter of your network and review all north/south (internet-connected) traffic. Next, through network segmentation, analyze east/west (internal communications) and work into vulnerability and endpoint security data. On a continuous basis, understand and monitor all data that is going in, out and through your network, as well as results from vulnerability identification and endpoint security

Analyze logs, set alerts, rules and traps for suspicious activity on the network at every location. Constantly update these alerts when the security landscape changes and dedicate people, time and resources to ensure this activity is a priority so nothing slips through the cracks.


Educate Employees

A lot of hacks happen because of human error. Educating employees on what threats they should be aware of and what not to open or send via email can make a huge impact on network security. Teaching employees how to spot odd behavior by malicious insiders helps identify potential breaches early on, such as unusual locked internet or devices, pop-ups and redirected websites when browsing, unexplained system reboots or shutdown, and multiple failed login attempts. 


Plan Ahead

Make sure you prepare for the worst. You need to have an emergency response plan in place for how you will investigate a breach, how to notify customers and how to remediate the security vulnerabilities. This is typically contained in your cybersecurity program.

The technology used to secure networks are only as effective as the people who are managing them. If the franchise doesn’t have the resources or time to manage and fine-tune the technologies and monitor for potential hacks, consider using a third-party vendor or partner with security experts who can help. 


Compliant vs. Secure

Many people think that being compliant means they are secure. However, security can drive compliance, but compliance doesn’t always make for efficient security. There are a lot of commonalities that exist within the different regulations, where documentation is required for auditing logs and security events, but these requirements aren’t necessarily recommendations on how to become secure. Many organizations find that focusing on security policies, technologies and procedures is a better method to achieve both security and compliance rather than starting with a compliance checklist. 


Unfortunately, hackers aren’t going away. Don’t wait for a breach to occur to examine your security posture. Franchisors face the unique challenge of accomplishing all these goals within a distributed business model. This is where creating and maintaining a cohesive and empowered cybersecurity program for the franchises is critical in protecting the brand.   


Saylor Frase is CEO of Nuspire Networks, a state-of-the-science managed network security provider for some of the largest and most distinctive companies around the world. 


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