Customers of Lucky Supermarkets, a subsidiary of Save Mart Supermarkets, got an early Thanksgiving gift when they were notified that 20 Lucky Supermarkets and one Save Mart store in California had discovered skimming devices inside those stores’ self checkout systems. As retailers move to more and more automation surrounding checkout, the more risk they take on unless they put in place controls to minimize those risks.
Grocery stores can learn a lot from gas stations and convenient stores and the controls these organizations have put in place to secure gas pumps.
- Locks are keyed the same. It turned out that gas pump manufacturers for as far back as they have had locks on pumps use the same keys. I worked at a gas station when I was in high school a long, long time ago. Yet, six years ago conducting a security review for a State Transportation Department, I found that the pump keys that I had neglected to return 30 years earlier would open the gas pumps at the maintenance garages. Whoa! Turns out self checkout manufacturers have the same problem unless you request them to use a different key and lock combination. So the first lesson to learn is to explicitly request a unique to your organization lock and key set for your self checkout units.
- Locks are not perfect. Even if you change out the locks, they can still be picked fairly quickly by someone who knows what they are doing. So, for a second level of defense, you need to add serialized tamperproof tape to the doors that allow access to the inside of the self checkout unit. Newer self checkout units only allow ease of access to change out the register tape and nothing else. Only authorized technicians have the ability to gain access to the rest of the device. However, best practice is to put serialized tape on all of the doors regardless.
- You may need tamperproof tape inside. Older (age is all relative) self checkout units allow access to too much of the internal workings and/or do not have tamperproof parts inside the cabinet. That means that “bad guys” can insert a skimmer without any obvious changes. To avoid that problem, you can wrap connections with tamperproof tape so that if anyone attempts to take the connectors apart, it will be obvious upon inspection of the tamperproof tape. Discuss your situation with your self checkout vendor as they can advise you on what should be taped.
- Locally monitor your equipment. The serial numbers on the tape need to be recorded on a log sheet and the tape (inside and outside) should be checked at every manager shift change. Any tape that appears to have been tampered with should be investigated and that unit taken out of service until an authorized technician deems it safe to put back in service. In addition, video monitoring should be in place to monitor each self checkout. Staff should be present at all time to monitor these devices. Typically a single person can cover two isles compromised of a total of four self checkout devices. Any more than that and your staff can be easily distracted and miss someone tampering with a device.
- Remotely monitor your equipment. Most self checkout devices have the ability to be centrally managed and monitored. In the event a door is opened, the unit can send an alert to the central monitoring console. When an alert is generated, operations personnel should immediately contact the retail outlet and have store management immediately investigate the alert and inform the central monitoring station of the devices status. If the store is not in operation, then the central operations personnel should contact local law enforcement and store management that an emergency exists at the store.
As a friendly reminder, security is not perfect. These controls have to be executed perfectly every day, every year. That is where things always go awry. However, if you do execute these controls consistently, your organization should be very difficult to compromise. The “bad guys” will know that and will find an easier target.