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Large organizations pose unique and intricate challenges for SAP security in the retail sector, necessitating a comprehensive approach to safeguard their systems. These challenges revolve around the high value of sensitive customer data, which makes them prime targets for cyberattacks. Additionally, the introduction of SAP S/4HANA Cloud adds complexity to risk and access management.

The complexity of retail systems stems from various sources, including intricate application landscapes, a multitude of users, adherence to strict compliance regulations, and the need for regular security updates while ensuring uninterrupted operations. While these challenges are not exclusive to the retail sector, the industry faces distinct hurdles and requirements, as evidenced by our successful projects with major retail brands such as Puma, S.Oliver, Sportscheck, and Miele.

Compliance vs. Cost: A Delicate Balance

One of the key conflicts in the retail industry is balancing compliance with cost efficiency. On the one hand, there are stringent demands for protecting customer and personal data and securing mobile payment processing. On the other hand, retail organizations are under constant pressure to optimize costs. For instance, ensuring PCI compliance can be challenging, especially when managing in-house payment gateways and credit card data storage. Delaying security checks until late in a project can lead to severe financial consequences or vulnerabilities upon system deployment.

The industry’s focus on bulk data and payment processing further compounds the complexity of retail data, environments, and processes. Retailers interact with numerous business partners, making it crucial to protect this master data. Additionally, the variety of systems, user access methods, and the need to maintain security standards and interface hygiene introduce another layer of complexity.

Managing Identities and Access

Effective identity and access management is pivotal in this context, especially when multiple systems are involved. Transparent planning and robust implementation of centralized identity management are essential. Continuous monitoring of identities and systems is equally critical. For retail, where large numbers of customer accounts are common, integrating with identity management systems must be consistent to avoid vulnerabilities, such as the persistence of invalid accounts.

One of our clients, specializing in the sale of spare parts, employs in-store systems that allow customers to independently browse and place orders. Consequently, this client manages a substantial customer base, between three to four million individuals within a single system. Furthermore, apart from end-user customer access, this system also accommodates administrators, including in-house personnel and external service providers. In such scenarios, it is imperative to implement vigilant monitoring of users possessing any level of privileged access.

The Looming Threat of Cyber Attacks

Retail is a prime target for cyberattacks due to its valuable assets. Timely detection and response to these threats are crucial. Proactive measures, like regular penetration testing and monitoring for anomalies, are vital. In many cases, the first wave of attack remains unnoticed until it’s too late. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities to introduce backdoors, Trojans, and other malicious elements, leading to a second wave of attacks, typically involving extortion.

In a recent engagement with a new client, we uncovered a significant vulnerability within their system during an initial penetration test. Specifically, we identified pre-existing administrator accounts set up to facilitate unauthorized actions, such as data encryption or covert movement of assets.

To illustrate the issue to our client, we created an administrative account, inadvertently revealing numerous counterfeit administrator accounts. Understandably, such a revelation triggered concern in our client, as the full extent of the potential compromise was uncertain.

Swift action was essential. Fortunately, we were able to confirm that no unauthorized activities had occurred. We promptly deactivated these suspicious accounts, temporarily halted system operations, implemented essential security patches, and restored normal system functionality.

In this instance, our client was fortunate to avoid consequences. However, it is essential to acknowledge that inadequately secured systems can serve as gateways for malicious actors. Similar to the notorious Log4j vulnerability, such weaknesses may open the door to backdoors, Trojans, and other malicious components, often lying dormant until activated with a simple command. This often marks the beginning of the second wave of an attack since the first wave typically goes unnoticed unless continuous anomaly monitoring is in place.


Retailers need to establish a comprehensive security strategy from the outset. This strategy should include a dedicated incident response plan and real-time monitoring, addressing security holistically at every level of the organization. Staying updated on emerging threats and vulnerabilities is critical, as security requires constant vigilance. It’s not enough to address security findings selectively; retailers must proactively protect their IT infrastructure effectively.

Contact us today for a custom demo to learn how to better manage your SAP security in the retail sector.

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