Businesses operating in the electrical, hardware, and automotive industries have had more card data security breaches than any other sectors over the last three years, according to a new study.

The research from payment solutions provider – and RBTE 2015 exhibitor – Worldpay found that British business have paid out more than £878,000 during that time, due to hackers successfully accessing cardholder data.

Pharmaceutical firms, cosmetics companies and clothing retailers were also impacted by increased hacking activity, with Worldpay reporting that the number of credit and debit cards at risk from security breaches in the UK has grown from under 200,000 in 2012 to more than three million in 2013.

Meanwhile, at least 6.57 million cards have reportedly been put at risk over the past three years.

Dave Hobday, managing director at Worldpay, warned that fraudsters often target "low-hanging fruit" and called small businesses "easy prey" for criminals looking to hack into card data.

"A data breach can be financially crippling – just the investigation alone can cost thousands of pounds, not to mention fines and loss of reputation," he explained.

"Knowing the risks and practicing good security will protect you and your customers in the long term – and that has to be a good thing."

With online retail sales increasing as a percentage of the total retail market and the number of card payments on the rise, there is a growing opportunity for hackers to steal customer data.

Research published by telecommunications business BT, earlier this summer, found that disruptive cyber attacks are becoming a rising concern for the retail sector. According to the study, 56% of IT decision makers in retail said distributed denial of service (DDoS) raids have become more effective at breaching their security defences over the 12 months.

Just over one-third of IT bosses operating in the retails sector admitted their organisation was hit by a DDoS in the last year, with 80% of those impacted saying they were hit on multiple occasions.

Shoppers are increasingly aware of the potential dangers they face when paying for items, too, with a survey commissioned by payments provider PayPoint in May finding that 55% of UK consumers view payment security as the most important factor in deciding how they pay. This compared to 26%, who felt convenience is the most important deciding factor.

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BT Security