Any business that processes card payments is a target for cybercriminals, but restaurants in particular are favored by hackers. Over the past few weeks, cybercriminals have stepped up their efforts to attack these businesses and several restaurant chains have had their systems compromised. In all cases, malware has been installed on point-of-sale systems that steals payment card information when diners pay for their meals.

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Many of the attacks have hit restaurant chains in the Midwest and East, with credit card data from diners recently having been listed for sale on the underground marketplace, Joker’s Stash. A batch of approximately 4 million credit and debit cards is being offered for sale, which comes from malware attacks at Moe’s, McAlister’s Deli, Krystal, and Schlotzsky’s.

The cyberattack on Krystal was detected in November, with the other three chains, all owned by Focus Brands, attacked in August. In total, the above chains have more than 1,750 restaurants and almost half of those locations, mostly in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina, were affected.

Catch Hospitality Group also announced in November that it had suffered a cyberattack which had seen malware installed on its point-of-sale system that scraped and exfiltrated payment card data as diners paid for their meals. The data breach affected customers of Catch NYC, Catch Roof, and Catch Steak restaurants. Fortunately, the devices used to process the majority of payments were unaffected. Malware was on the Catch NYC and Catch Roof devices between March 2019 and October 2019, with Catch Steak affected between September 2019 and October 2019.

Church’s Chicken restaurants were also attacked in a separate incident in October. The majority of its 1,000+ restaurants were not affected, but at least 160 restaurants in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas had malware installed on their POS system.

Other restaurant chains that have been attacked in 2019 include Checker’s Drive-In, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Huddle House, Applebee’s, Chilli’s, and Earl Enterprises (Buca di Beppo, Chicken Guy, Tequila Taqueria, Mixology, Planet Hollywood). Malware n the systems of Earl Enterprises had been present for almost a year before it was detected.

How to Improve Restaurant Cybersecurity

Restaurants process many thousands of card transactions which makes them an attractive target for hackers. Restaurants often use out-of-date operating systems, have vulnerability-ridden legacy hardware, and their cybersecurity solutions often leave a lot to be desired. Consequently, cyberattacks on restaurants are relatively easy to perform, at least compared to many other types of businesses.

In order to infect the POS system, the attackers will need network access. That is most commonly gained via phishing emails, drive-by malware downloads, or by abusing remote access tools. Direct attacks are also possible using techniques such as SQL injection and weak passwords can be easily guessed using brute force tactics.

The malware that sits on systems and exfiltrates data tends to have a very small footprint and is often stealthy as it needs to be present for long periods of time to collect payment card data. That can make it hard to detect when it has been installed. The key to security is therefore improving defenses to make sure the malware is not installed in the first place, which means preventing the attackers from gaining access to the network.

Listed below are some easy-to-implement steps that will help restaurants improve their security posture and block attacks. The key is defense in depth through layered security.

  • Use an enterprise-grade firewall –Ensure an enterprise-grade firewall is purchased. A firewall will prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to your network resources.
  • Patch promptly and update all software and firmware – Ensure patches are applied promptly and software and firmware updates are implemented when they are released. That includes all systems and networked devices, not just your POS.
  • Upgrade hardware – When your hardware is approaching end of life it is time to upgrade. Unsupported hardware (and software) will no longer be updated and vulnerabilities will no longer be fixed.
  • Lockdown your POS: Use whitelisting or otherwise lock down POS systems to make it harder for malware to operate. Only allow trusted apps to run on your POS systems.
  • Install powerful antivirus software – Ensure all devices are protected by a powerful anti-virus solution and that it is set to update virus definitions automatically. Regularly scan the network for malware, especially your POS.
  • Implement an intrusion detection system – These systems monitor the network for unusual activity that could indicate a malware infection, attackers searching the network for the POS system, and unusual traffic that could indicate data exfiltration.
  • Change all default passwords and set strong passwords – To protect against brute force attacks, ensure strong passwords are set on all systems and all default passwords are changed. Also implement rate limiting to block attempts to access a system or device after a set number of failed password attempts.
  • Implement a powerful spam filtering solution – A powerful email security solution, such as SpamTitan, is required to prevent spam and malicious emails from being delivered to end users. Even if you have Office 365, you will need a third-party email security solution to block email-based threats.
  • Restrict Internet access with a DNS filter – A DNS filter such as WebTitan provides protection against drive-by malware downloads and web-based phishing attacks. WebTitan will block all known malicious websites and those with a low trust score. The solution can also be configured to prevent employees from accessing categories of websites where malware downloads are more likely.
  • Disable Remote Access if Possible – Disable Remote Desktop Protocol and all remote access tools. If remote access tools are required to allow essential maintenance work to be completed, ensure they can only used via a VPN and restrict the people who can use those tools.