Regular contributor, Dakota Murphey, shares with us her first piece for 2022. Dakota has more than a decade of experience in business growth, working independently as a business consultant for a number of years.
The question of IT security is never far from the mind of any business, and that includes those in the fashion and retail sector. In a commercial environment that relies on digital technology, any business can become a target for hackers.
Cybersecurity is big news when high-profile attacks happen, but the scale of criminal activity is far bigger than most of us realise. Just scroll down this BBC feed to see the high frequency of cyber attacks reported, and the sheer breadth of organisations affected.
When it comes to fashion businesses, it is important to stress that security issues such as data breaches, ransomware and denial of service attacks don’t just affect major retailers but are a problem for all sizes of stores and ecommerce websites. According to available data taken from the British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey, 80% of retailers reported an increase in cyber attacks in the previous year.
Questions of risk of data exposure and governance must be seriously considered even by the smallest operators, while addressing cybersecurity as a business critical issue head on must be top priority for all businesses. Thankfully, as the Table below indicates, decision makers in the fashion industry are now becoming aware of this fact, and many are putting appropriate measures in place to protect their livelihoods.
How is data at risk in the fashion industry?
People may not typically associate fashion houses or retailers with high volumes of data, compared to, say, tech companies, and once upon a time this distinction would have been justified.
Before the digital revolution, high end fashion brands guarded their designs and patterns as their most covetable intellectual property to be protected, as well as their brand identity and good name. Retailers, on the other hand, were most concerned with safeguarding valuable information regarding customer demographics and shopping habits. The main security threat came from industrial espionage – competitors trying to obtain classified information by stealth.
Data is the most valuable asset for fashion
These days, it is generally recognised that data is the most valuable asset for fashion brands and retailers. That’s because the traditional seasonal model – Spring and Summer (SS), Autumn and Winter (AW) – has largely been replaced by fast fashion. One of the consequences of this is that protected designs are now much less valuable than they once were. Instead, the competitive edge depends on the company’s speed and responsiveness, both of which are highly data-driven.
Connected data processes are at the heart of every modern fashion and retail business. From digitally controlled manufacturing processes and machinery that fall under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT) to sophisticated sales data and granular customer profiling insights, it is the interplay between accurate demand predictions and just-in-time supply that directs business activity and drives commercial success.
In short, the sheer data volumes generated and used to determine: marketing, retail strategy, manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, inventory management, retail activity and customer relationship management means that the fashion industry is more vulnerable to cyber attacks than ever before. There are also more points of attack to protect against such vulnerability.
What is the way forward?
While there is a general recognition of the importance of cybersecurity, it has not been established that fashion houses and retailers are doing everything they can to tackle the realities of the new level of cyber risk. A key indicator is the treatment of IT security budgets. Have they been increased to deal with the current security landscape, the rising number of online customers and the volume of transactions that are being processed?
Vulnerabilities exist for a wide range of threats
Looking at the sector as a hub of credit card payments and other financial transactions alone, it is clear that vulnerabilities exist for a wide range of threats including bogus social media profiles, domain spoofing and fake websites.
Working together with cybersecurity experts and harnessing their specialist skills and experience is an obvious step in the right direction to stay one step ahead of the cyber criminals in the context of a continually evolving risk landscape. Indeed, one of the most effective ways to guard against a possible data breach is to simulate an attack.
Using ‘ethical hackers’ to identify existing vulnerabilities can provide a real opportunity to address any gaps in security protocol before they can be exploited for nefarious purposes. An awareness of a company’s vulnerabilities can be a real eye opener, and lead to building a solid framework to provide robust in-house cybersecurity processes and protocols. It can also be a useful step to help create a culture of cybersecurity best practice within the business, including ongoing proactivity, user education and dialogue around the topic of cybersecurity.
Finally, taking targeted advice and collaborating with IT security professionals should be combined with a proactive approach towards the customer designed to earn trust, and potentially even educate customers on the threats to internet security. This not only puts fashion companies and retailers in the best position to defend their businesses against data-theft related loss, it actually enables them to become more successful as a result of their enhanced reputation.
Staying one step ahead
It is a harsh but necessary truth that for every smart company putting up cybersecurity defences, there’s an equally smart hacker trying to tear them down. In our connected, data-driven world, protecting your most valuable assets is both business critical and increasingly hard to do.
For fashion businesses and retailers looking to leverage the latest digital technology including IoT and AI, this means a constant audit of the precious data they hold while considering how many new threats could be opening up for that data to be compromised.
Fashion brands and retail businesses who wish to take advantage of increasingly sophisticated and powerful digital tools and technology to drive competitiveness now and in the future must realise that treasuring and protecting their data has to be at the heart of the entire operation.