For the last 10+ years, the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza known as Black Friday has courted crowds and controversy, with major retailers deciding to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day to mobs of rabid customers looking for deep discounts.
This year, things look a little different. While some doors will open on Black Friday, many shoppers will choose to look for deals online instead. And even though online shopping will protect consumers from catching COVID-19, there’s no guarantee they won’t pick up a different kind of virus — and pass it on to corporate networks.
Conversely, online retailers and organizations with ecommerce platforms should take extra precautions this year, as cybercriminals have already ramped up their attacks on a wide variety of shopping sites.
Watch out for Black Friday and Cyber Monday pitfalls
As the nation heads into a holiday season on lockdown, we once again face norms-defying circumstances: Thanksgiving gatherings will be much smaller and Black Friday will likely have crowds rushing to their laptops instead of their local malls.
Since the start of the pandemic, online spending has increased by 75 percent. Ecommerce cybercrime has followed suit, with a 25 percent rise in credit card skimming observed in the first month of the pandemic alone. Scams laced with COVID-19 misinformation have tricked thousands into giving out their personal and business data or led to infections of home and corporate networks. And ransomware attacks have taken advantage of a vulnerable and distributed workforce. All this means the stakes are even higher for the coming week of holiday shopping.
In fact, expect stores to extend Black Friday deals through the month and beyond, luring shoppers repeatedly back to their ecommerce pages for maximum return on investment. But the old methods for staying safe while online shopping are not all relevant in today’s threat landscape. For organizations with remote employees who may also use their work device for personal use (or personal device for work activities), it’s prudent to send out reminders this holiday shopping season to keep personal business — especially online purchases — separate from business business. Here are a few you can send to your staff:
- Just because a website uses HTTPS and has a padlock does not mean it is safe. It simply means that the connection is secure between a particular server and who the website claims to be. But it’s easy for cybercriminals to spoof legitimate sites and have your information be sent to them over a secure connection. All the padlock guarantees is that other cybercriminals can’t interrupt the exchange.
- To protect against web skimmers, consider equipping personal devices with antivirus software that has web protection, or browser extensions that block malicious content. All work devices should be protected with the same.
- Avoid clicking directly on targeted ads for a particular deal. Online ads could contain exploits delivered via malvertising, which could deliver malicious payloads or divert users to scam pages. If there’s an ad for a great deal, go directly to the retailer’s website instead.
- Do not use public WiFi to shop online. Also avoid using the company’s VPN for that purpose. The best bet is to shop from a password-secured home network or to purchase your own VPN for home use.
In addition, online retailers and other ecommerce sites should take particular precautions over the next month to protect against web skimmers or other online attacks. Here’s my advice for staying secure:
- Keep your site updated to protect against cybercriminals who would exploit vulnerabilities, and that includes shoring up weak code. Make sure any admin access to the site’s backend is protected with a strong, rotating password.
- Make sure any third parties, including Content Management Systems (CMSes), financial transaction partners, or even libraries of code are free from known vulnerabilities by running all updates or cross-checking code for mistakes.
- Take preventative measures by implementing safeguards, such as a Content Security Policy (CSR) and Subresource Integrity (SRI).
Best wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!