The State of the Art of Retail Security

Tuesday, 21st February 2017

Retailers frequently and necessarily find themselves as the most committed users of security as a service. Security as a service will grow 12.7% a year during 2016–2020, according to London-headquartered market research company Technavio.

Overview of retail security

With online commerce on its inescapable upward path in 2017, digital vulnerabilities abound. Silicon Valley’s WhiteHat Security points to 13 ‘serious’ security vulnerabilities that regularly appear in retail web applications – a level among the highest of any industry, with each of these shortfalls classed as high-risk or critical by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). The BBC reported the findings of Dutch developer Willem de Groot, who found that 5,925 online retailers were unaware of the presence of card-skimming code, harboured within their systems and designed to steal credit card details. (It is worth stating here that card skimming and many other online threats could be avoided if upgrades to security software were made regularly.)

One form of new security technology is virtually invisible: retailers are relying on forensic marking with DNA, whereby the marker (a gel or some other mostly undetectable substance) is applied to the item and only becomes apparent when it is sprayed or exposed to light of a certain wavelength. Monica Hallin, CEO of Sweden’s Vindico Group, writes that it is ‘the next big thing in property and intruder protection’ and points to it as an inexpensive and efficient solution that has already been applied to retail security with very positive results.

The figures from 2015 attribute the biggest source of loss on retail floors in most countries to shoplifting, and retailers combat the problem with radio frequency identification systems, electronic article surveillance and video surveillance. Video surveillance remains a mainstay and increasingly higher resolution cameras are in the offing. Technavio analyst Amrita Choudhury writes that ‘end-users are becoming aware about the benefits of video surveillance that provide a good amount of information to help manage, monitor and resolve some of the critical situations.’

Facial recognition software

FaceFirst is an American company that markets facial recognition software, and its CEO touted its system as smart enough to warn sales associates of the presence of a suspect or threat – and guidance on how to handle the same – all within seven seconds. Industry-leading players have come on board with such technology, including Walmart, who tested a system that scans faces, identifies suspected shoplifters, and then instantly alerts a security guard security through their mobile.

Privacy

But privacy concerns persist. At the minute, there seems to be little agreement among retailers about how to protect customer privacy. Should shoppers be notified and given the chance to opt out? A US initiative to introduce common rules fell apart last year when nine privacy groups quit a Commerce Department working group because the industry refused to agree to even basic boundaries on facial recognition.

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