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Improving Restaurant Cybersecurity to Keep Your Restaurant Data Secure

restaurant cybersecurity
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Restaurant technology innovations are quickly changing the way the restaurant industry does business, as restaurant owners leverage technology to streamline operations, reduce costs, and attract customers. However, with more technological opportunity, there comes more technological risk—such as cyber attacks or security breaches.

For a food and beverage restaurant business, it’s not enough to play defense against online criminals. Your restaurant company needs to have a strong, proactive restaurant cybersecurity plan to identify risks, protect business and guest data, comply with payment card industry regulations, and react strategically if a security breach does occur.

Restaurant cybersecurity is worth the investment

Tech innovation in payments, operations, and marketing requires enormous amounts of data, which attracts criminal hackers looking to profit from a data breach. Although most news reporting about security breaches mentions credit or debit card payment data as a target, hackers are increasingly looking to other areas of data. Your loyalty program technology is collecting valuable information about your guests, like their age, visit frequency, and address. Your payroll tech is collecting private employee identification information. Your point of sale system (POS) may be tracking your private company financials, and your internal communications may include intellectual property or confidential corporate information.

Without proper restaurant cybersecurity defense, all of this data is vulnerable. Small business owners tend to be a target of many cyber attacks, because hackers know that these businesses may not have proper cybersecurity practices in place. 

Restaurant cyber attacks are starting to become a major risk factor for restaurants, potentially affecting both your reputation and your bottom line. Although updating your restaurant cybersecurity approach does require some investment, many restaurant owners find out too late the true cost of a cyber attack.A cybersecurity breach can levy huge costs on a restaurant, such as:

  • Fees and penalties associated with a data breach
  • If the breach involves credit or debit card data, substantial fines due to non-PCI compliance, in accordance with Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards
  • A professional forensic audit of your business
  • Implementation of different breach-notification laws to consumers, depending on the state
  • Class action lawsuits or other litigation
  • Brand damage and a poor reputation in the eyes of the distrustful public

However, your restaurant can manage your cybersecurity risk to try to avoid a cyber attack. Basic restaurant cybersecurity strategies, outlined below, can help you be proactive in improving your security and protecting your restaurant data.

Know your security risks

Many modern hackers are primarily interested in stealing data that can be sold, including credit or debit card data, personal information, payroll, or proprietary intelligence. Hackers may also be interested in implementing ransomware, which locks your network until you pay a sum of money. Creating a restaurant cybersecurity strategy can help you protect your business against online criminals.

However, there are other common security risks that may have a basis in the real world of your business. For instance, because restaurants frequently have a long list of third-party vendors, some fraud may be as simple as a false maintenance or cleaning service invoicing for services that didn’t happen. In addition, payroll fraud is increasing with the rise of mobile banking, with employees paid by check able to attempt to deposit that check once through a mobile app and once in person. 

These new fraud risks issues, driven by the rise of online payments and automated payroll systems, can be addressed through modern tools. Restaurant operations software that includes smart monitoring tools, such as automated bank reconciliation or vendor management, can help you identify potential cyber fraud and quickly make corrections.

Get a risk assessment

With high stakes, a fundamental step is to assess your risks as a business owner. Many restaurants are turning to a common framework, known as the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework for Critical Infrastructure, to create an extensive cybersecurity strategy. Launched in 2014, this framework was made for all types of businesses to help identify cyber threats and protect against data breaches. 

The NIST framework works through a proactive five step process: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Creating a risk assessment plan for your business may require obtaining a cybersecurity audit from a cybersecurity professional or consultant.

Cybersecurity is like quality assurance in the kitchen, requiring ongoing, continuous effort to ensure it is being implemented correctly and adapting to changing situations. Although you can’t remove all risk, evolving restaurant cybersecurity efforts are strategies for risk management. A smart cybersecurity blueprint, built on knowledge of your assessment, can help you take significant steps to mitigate risk.

Audit the number of systems your restaurant is running

Another key cybersecurity step is to conduct IT audits, including analyzing a store or restaurant chain’s back-of-house IT systems and front-of-house point of sale system. First, this includes making sure all software is up to date and patches are installed. Next, you should identify how all software and hardware systems are connected to other stores, corporate headquarters, and other third-party vendor systems. 

Once you understand your system, you can trace what information is being transmitted and why. If a connection is not serving a purpose, you may want to consider closing that channel. You’ll also want to analyze who can access your network remotely, potentially limiting access to only the hardware or applications that are required for a specific reason. This IT system audit can help you spot weaknesses in your system and take steps to address them.

Make sure your equipment is secure

In the restaurant industry, one of the most common points of access for online hackers is the point of sale system, because this contains large amounts of data on a single system. To protect this common target, ensure your POS system is up to date and following government-regulated PCI compliance rules. You may also want to consider modern, cloud-based POS integration systems that store sensitive data off-site, on the cloud. POS systems with features such as permission-based security or tiered access to data can also help you implement smart security strategies within your own team.However, the most important consideration is choosing trustworthy POS companies and other third-party vendors. Third-party service provider companies are increasingly a target for cyber attacks, because they may have access to or store details about your business, employees, and customers.

To protect your data, choose reputable third-party vendors that maintain security measures at the same level you do. It’s essential to ask third-party companies about their risk management, data security breach safeguards, and web application security. Be sure to do your due diligence about how these vendors protect your data with their existing security and privacy policies. It’s important to revisit this throughout the life of your contract, and have open, accountable conversations about what happens if there is a data breach.

Invest in end-to-end encryption

A foundational aspect of good cybersecurity practices is ensuring that your systems are using encryption to safeguard data. End-to-end encryption codes data as it travels from computer to computer, such as from your store to corporate headquarters. Encryption converts information into a cipher that requires a key to decrypt, preventing hackers from capturing it during transfer. 

Encryption is now a standard feature for modern POS and accounting systems, with immediate encryption allowing information about credit card transactions or credit or debit card data to be processed securely.

Use a firewall to separate devices

If a breach like malware or a virus does enter your network system, one of your first lines of defense can be a strategic firewall that keeps malware-infected devices from further infecting the network. If some devices don’t need to talk to each other on the same network, network bifurcation can help head off data breach issues and prevent them from becoming network-wide problems. 

Hold training for employees on restaurant security best practices

Training employees to watch for warning signs is one of the best cybersecurity defense mechanisms you can employ. You can teach staff to avoid common triggers of a data breach, such as avoiding phishing emails that infect computers with malware or clicking on suspicious emails or attachments. You may also consider limiting employee access to your restaurant’s internet-enabled devices, preventing internet browsing that can lead to network malware and cyber attacks.

As part of training for your management and accounting team, consider another common weak spot in restaurant cybersecurity: password breaches. Consider implementing configurable password policies with your restaurant management software to force users to meet configured password complexity requirements or compel users to periodic password resets. This can be configured based on user type, requiring high-level accounting users (who have access to sensitive information) to meet more strict, complex requirements for a password.

Finally, your senior, management, or corporate team should be trained in cybersecurity risks and strategy. With a specific team in your organization accountable for managing data security and IT maintenance, you can ensure your business is able to adapt and evolve your cybersecurity strategy as needed.

Restaurant cybersecurity keeps your restaurant data secure

Although there are many factors to keep in mind, taking the first step toward improving your restaurant cybersecurity practices is essential to managing your risks in the future. 

Restaurant365 incorporates restaurant accounting software, restaurant operations software, restaurant inventory management software and scheduling software into an all-in-one, cloud-based platform that’s fully integrated with your Point-of-Sale system, as well as to your food and beverage vendors, payroll vendor, and bank. Restaurant365 has security controls and practices in place to protect your restaurant data.

Download the Restaurant365 Security Controls data sheet.