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Bringing Fashion Industry Cybersecurity in Vogue

Bringing Fashion Industry Cybersecurity in Vogue

Fashion industry cybersecurity needs to become a part of the industry fabric  

As the fashion industry looks to the future with digital innovation, the looming shadow of cybercrime threatens to unravel the fabric of its progress. Fashion industry cybersecurity needs to be a serious consideration for organizations of all sizes—from garment manufacturers to boutique online retailers and international design houses to bricks-and-mortar outlets. 

Last year, the consumer goods sector experienced an average cost of $3.8 million per. breach, positioning it at 10th in the global average. The retail sector reported an average cost of $2.96 million per. breach, ranking it 16th. [IBM] 

The Unfashionable Truth 

The fashion industry’s leap toward digitization has not been without its snags. Cybercriminals, akin to moths to a cashmere sweater, are drawn to the industry’s rich tapestry of data and intellectual property. 

Consider the following: 

  • Shein Data Breach (2018): The fast-fashion online retailer Shein suffered a significant data breach that compromised the personal information of approximately 6.42 million customers. The breach exposed email addresses and encrypted password credentials due to unauthorized access to the company’s systems.  
  • Fashion Nova Data Exposure (2020): Fashion Nova, a popular online fashion store, inadvertently exposed the sensitive personal information of hundreds of thousands of its customers due to a misconfigured cloud database. The exposed data included names, addresses, and partially redacted credit card information.  
  • Guess Data Breach (2021): The American fashion brand Guess notified its customers of a data breach following a ransomware attack on its systems. The breach resulted in the theft of personal information, including Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, passport numbers, and financial account information of an unspecified number of individuals.  
  • JD Sports Breach (2023): Last year, the well-known highstreet retailer was hit by cyberattack that leaked 10 million customers’ data. The retail group said the incident affected shoppers at JD, Size?, Millets, Blacks, Scotts and Millets Sport brands. While JD Sports said the “affected data was limited” as it did not hold full payment data and the company “has no reason to believe that account passwords were accessed,” the resulting PR fallout was substantial. 
  • A “well-known fashion brand” was targeted by a February 2023 phishing campaign that tricked an employee into divulging application login credentials. Cybercriminals gained access to the company’s secure design archives, used east-west lateral movement within their network until they found what they were looking for, and stole upcoming fashion designs that were later found replicated (in bulk) by East Asian competitors before the original brand could launch them. 

From design theft to personal data breaches, the threat is growing and getting increasingly sophisticated. With 2024 cybersecurity statistics making for ever-concerning reading, cybercrime is expected to cost the world $9.5 trillion USD in the coming year alone [Cybersecurity Ventures]. The fashion sector, with its treasure trove of customer information and proprietary designs, is a particularly enticing target for bad actors.  

A Patchwork of OT/IT Devices 

In garment manufacturing, OT and IT devices are stitched together, creating a network that’s as complex as it is vulnerable. From computer-controlled sewing machines to inventory management systems, each point of connectivity threads a potential risk. Without robust cybersecurity measures, specifically addressing device microsegmentation to contain any potential breach—dividing networks into smaller, secured zones, allowing for more precise control over traffic flow, and enhancing security by isolating devices from each other—these systems are ripe for disruption. 

Over the past few years, the manufacturing sector has emerged as a prime target for cybercriminals globally, leading to approximately 250 data breach incidents in 2022 within the United States alone. These incidents affected roughly 23.9 million U.S. users, highlighting the significant cybersecurity challenges faced by the industry. [Statistica] 

Retail Cybersecurity Issues 

On the retail side, the fashion industry faces even more challenges. E-commerce platforms, point-of-sale systems, and customer databases are ripe targets for cyber threats. Protecting these assets is not just about securing transactions but ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of customer data—a brand’s most valuable accessory. 

Any retailer outlet that accepts credit or debit cards falls under payment card legislation—obligatory cybersecurity requirements are designed to protect cardholder data and ensure the secure processing, storage, and transmission of customer information. The most notable regulation in this area is the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). PCI DSS compliance aims to reduce fraud and data breaches. These requirements include maintaining a secure network, protecting cardholder data, managing vulnerabilities through regular testing and updates, implementing strong access control measures, monitoring and testing networks regularly, and maintaining an information security policy. To ensure the integrity and security of payment card transactions, compliance with PCI DSS is mandatory for all organizations involved in payment card processing, including merchants, processors, acquirers, issuers, and service providers. 

The Design Dilemma 

In fashion, the design is the crown jewel, yet in the digital realm, these treasures are vulnerable to theft and replication. Ensuring the originality and exclusivity of designs is paramount, requiring cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions that can protect these assets from being copied or altered.

Preserving the integrity of design data stored on-premise, in the cloud, or hybrid environments is essential. By using advanced behavior analytics and machine learning to monitor and analyze design data access patterns, it is possible to swiftly identify and mitigate unauthorized or anomalous activities that could indicate design data theft.  

From the sales associate to the pattern cutter and from the retail buyer to the creative director, no person (or application) should have access to any data or software that they do not need in order to do their job. Enforcing strict access controls and segmentation policies, known as adopting zero trust working practices, ensures that design data, whether stored on-premise, in the cloud, or across hybrid environments, remains secure and accessible only to authorized users, thereby preserving its integrity against potential theft and possible insider error.

Ransomeware for All  

The fashion and garment industry faces a unique threat from ransomware attacks, which can have devastating consequences. When organization become the victim of ransomeware, these cyberattacks encrypt a company’s data, including critical design files, manufacturing specifications, and customer information, holding them hostage until a ransom is paid. For an industry that thrives on the timely release of collections and the safeguarding of proprietary designs, such an attack can not only delay production and launch schedules but also lead to the loss of exclusive designs if the data is leaked or sold.  

Moreover, ransomware incidents can erode trust among customers and partners, damage brand reputation, and result in significant financial losses. The collaborative and interconnected nature of the industry, from design through to retail, further amplifies the potential impact, making robust cybersecurity measures essential to protect against ransomware threats.

Tailoring Fashion Industry Cybersecurity Solutions 

Going Beyond ‘Off-the-Rack’ 

The unique challenges of the fashion industry demand more than off-the-rack cybersecurity solutions. From the sewing machine to the showroom, each point in the supply chain presents a potential vulnerability. Regular pen tests and ethical hacks, much like seasonal collections, should evolve to address the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats.  

Accessorizing with Advanced Monitoring and Protection  

Protecting the industry’s digital assets requires layers of cybersecurity measures. Advanced monitoring tools and protective measures must become integral to the industry’s operations. This includes real-time threat detection, combating insider threats, data encryption, and rigorous access controls, ensuring that only those with the right credentials can access the industry’s vault of treasures.  

Investing in Fashion Industry Cybersecurity  

The cost of cybersecurity, often viewed through the expense lens, must instead be seen as an investment in brand preservation and customer trust. The fashion industry, celebrated for its innovation and adaptability, must weave cybersecurity into its DNA, ensuring that as the industry evolves, its defenses do, too. Investing in cybersecurity is not just in technology but in fostering a culture of security awareness permeating every organization layer. 

Stitching It All Together  

The race for cybersecurity talent underscores a critical need within the industry. As the digital fabric of fashion continues to expand, so does the need for skilled professionals to protect it. Whether through an in-house cybersecurity team or outsourced expertise, fortifying the industry’s digital security posture is not just a measure of prevention but a declaration of brand integrity and customer commitment.  

As the fashion industry continues its digital transformation, brands and organizations must make cybersecurity the trend that never goes out of style. Investing in robust cybersecurity measures is not just about avoiding the next breach; it’s about preserving the essence of what fashion stands for — creativity, innovation, and trust. The industry cannot afford to wait for a breach to remind stakeholders of the importance of cybersecurity. Instead, organizations must lead the charge, making cybersecurity the most coveted accessory in the industry’s digital wardrobe.  

After all, in the fashion world, being in vogue is everything, and that has to include cybersecurity.

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