July 26, 2022
Your Network Choices are Critical. Here’s why
New to networking and need a crash course? Wondering whether you’ve done all you can to protect and future-proof your business from hackers and criminals? We conducted an in-depth interview with Annika Birkler, Senior Product Manager for Connectivity at DFS, and Courtney Hamby, Sales & Support Manager at AvaLAN (a DFS company), to understand how your networking decisions can impact everything from user experience to station security. Read on to see what our experts have to say.
Why Network Security Matters in Fuel and Convenience Retail
Question: We talk about network security and MNSP, but a lot of people are wearing many hats running a business and don’t have time to become experts in this. Can you describe in the simplest of terms how these work and why they’re important?
Just as you maintain a private internet network in your home to transmit files between devices, make online payments, and store personal information, your business needs the ability to communicate between dispenser and store systems. This is where secure networks come into play.
That technology began as serial wired systems with cables running underground between fuel dispensers and stores. Over time, it’s advanced to wireless options that are faster, more secure, and easier to maintain. Our latest technology in DFS Wireless Connect acts just like an invisible Ethernet cable connecting fueling points to stores in the most secure way so credit card and personal info can’t be stolen while being transmitted on the forecourt. The transition to Ethernet communication systems offers the higher speeds now required to transact with EMV payments.
Question: Why is network security so critical for retailers and c-store owners?
Consumer and payment data are constantly transmitted from dispenser to store, and the unique outdoor payment model of a fueling station puts it at higher risk than networks locked behind shop doors. It’s important for anyone with a gas station to protect this data in addition to business-sensitive information such as on personnel or store financials. Criminals not only can intercept sensitive personal or payment data but install viruses if they manage to break into the system.
Question: Should smaller chains or independent store owners really be investing in this?
The U.S. is behind other markets in EMV implementation, but now that it’s catching up, criminals are looking for the next weak point after card skimming improvements. C-store owners not implementing top security measures – particularly smaller independently owned locations – will be the weakest link as bigger retailers upgrade security. So really, networking investments are important for any fuel retailer of any size.
What to Consider When Choosing your Network
Question: Can’t someone just capture sensitive data by plugging a “Network Skimmer” into an open network port inside the dispenser? How can I secure the Ethernet ports inside my fuel dispensers?
Wayne Ovation® fuel dispensers have door security sensors to alarm site managers of tampering. This can happen even faster at sites implementing DX Monitor® to track dispenser functionality in real-time. DFS Wireless Connect in dispensers with Anthem UX® prevents unknown devices from connecting by managing Ethernet ports on wireless devices. They operate in Managed mode, as well as extending the secure payment zone all the way out to the dispenser.
If you try to mimic an external unit or subscriber unit, the network doesn’t recognize the unknown device and won’t transmit. Overall, if the wireless unit detects any funny business (invalid logins, reset attempts, improper setting configuration) it will wipe itself of data before that gets into the wrong hands.
Question: Is it really just about payment security?
It’s not just about what transmits from dispenser to store systems [payment data], but what flows out as well. Fuel dispenser technology is advancing at a quick pace, and c-stores have more options than ever for sharing promotions and in-store information out to customers on the forecourt. With secure wireless networks, larger media packages for store promotions and important dispenser communications can be sent to dispenser screens with improved connectivity. Retailers won’t be able to send those over limited serial wire setups.
Operating in managed mode on some DFS dispensers, non-secure data such as media is separated from the secure payment data. This minimizes risk of tampering with payment data when implementing new cloud services on gas stations. It’s an all-around more secure setup, minimizes what's included in the PCI audit, and is a better experience for both customer and site owner.
Question: We often hear “connectivity is key”. Explain this.
If your network is disconnected, you face downtime. It’s a severe drawback because the whole station can go down and quickly cost you valuable business. If a wired system goes bad, you have bigger problems that will inevitably require higher cost and take longer to repair. If your wireless unit goes bad, you simply swap an individual component.
Accessibility is a key win when it comes to investing in a wireless Ethernet network. You no longer need to worry about digging down to buried wires, allowing for much quicker installation, maintenance and upgrades. The technology of DFS Wireless Connect is essentially “plug and play”. Authorized technicians can install one in minutes to keep your forecourt up and running.
With secure connectivity, you also have the value of future-proofing and accommodating add-ons without extensive downtime. DFS Wireless Connect is designed for scalability. It can be used for any Ethernet data transmission on your forecourt, and as your forecourt grows or upgrades, there are no concerns regarding system bandwidth. Wireless units can easily be added without any downtime.
Connectivity Impacts Experience
Question: The need for speed is real, but why should we care about speed in terms of customer experience?
When you have a legacy system such as FlexPay Connect (BCRM) or Wayne Connect, you have to wait for each dispenser to finish “talking” before another one can begin transmitting. Users can experience this delay as lag. When there are plenty of nearby options for fueling, it could be enough of a deterrent to keep them from coming back.
With Ethernet connections, dispensers can simultaneously connect and transmit. Secure Wireless Ethernet increases transaction speeds for a better customer experience.
Question: Finally, what makes AvaLAN noteworthy when it comes to selecting a networking solution and managed network service provider (MNSP)?
AvaLAN has been designing communications solutions specifically for the fueling industry for 17 years. Our products are made to have best-in-class security and are easy to install and maintain. We’re expanding on our connectivity offerings, and will soon introduce AvaLAN MNSP, a Managed Network Service Solution that will seamlessly integrate with other AvaLAN and DFS products yet remain agnostic for various site configurations.
AvaLAN is a leading market solutions provider for high speed secure wired and wireless networking. DFS has a combined history of 450 years in the fuel and convenience retail space among our legacy brands, and the addition of AvaLAN in 2021 further strengthens DFS’ position as a leading global provider of end-to-end customer-focused technologies, services and solutions specifically in this industry.