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Black Friday To Cyber Monday: Keeping Hackers From Having Their Day

Businesses should be especially mindful about online security on the year's biggest shopping days

Stores across the country were a madhouse when Black Friday arrived, with throngs of shoppers showing up to take advantage of seasonal sales. Online, the customer rush has been similar, though the security challenge businesses face takes on a different form.

This year, according to analytics firm comScore, online sales on Black Friday totaled an estimated $1.198 billion. But alongside those numbers are numbers like these from fraud prevention firm Signifyd: An estimated 1.2 percent of e-commerce sales on smartphones were fraudulent. A legitimate transaction on a tablet averaged $132. A fraudulent transaction on a tablet averaged $216.

More numbers: On Dec. 2, investigators from law enforcement agencies around the world seized 690 domain names belonging to sites trafficking in counterfeit goods.

"Black Friday and Cyber Monday just provide an additional avenue that makes the threats seem more legitimate and create spikes in an overwhelming flow of attacks," explains Colby Clark, director of incident management at FishNet Security. "People are torn, on one hand, by the desire to be mindful of cyberthreats and, on the other, by trying to take advantage of a deal that seems too good to miss. Unfortunately, the latter usually wins."

Some managed security providers noted that they did not see an abnormal amount of malicious activity affecting their customers on either day. However, according to Clark, much of the malicious activity surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday may not have been identified yet. Often, he says, successful website hacks may not be noticed for weeks or longer due to a lack of monitoring.

For the most part, Black Friday and Cyber Monday hacks focus primarily on social engineering, he says.

"People are expecting solicitations and massive discounts -- their guard is down and will likely click on things they otherwise would not," says Clark, noting an uptick on attacks targeting vulnerabilities on mobile devices.

During high volume times for a site, it may be easier for a cyberattack to be masked by the normal flow of traffic, "similar to how a thief may be able to get away with shoplifting easier when a store is busy," Jon French, security analyst at AppRiver, tells Dark Reading.

"It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on any public-facing part of the Internet, but it may be a good idea to play it safe and keep a closer eye during these peak shopping seasons for online retailers," French says. "This could involve a variety of actions, such as monitoring network patterns or looking for really out-of-the-ordinary orders coming in."

In preparation for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, security experts at consulting firm Neohapsis recommended businesses use HTTPS to make sure all data between customers and their sites is encrypted, and to check that systems are patched and updated.

"Businesses should ensure their workstations are in a good security place," advises Catherine Pearce, security consultant at Neohapsis.

"Unfortunately, this event offers both a good pretense and a good opportunity for security problems if attackers can somehow convince or trick your users into visiting attack sites on their computer," she adds. "Attackers have been abusing popular trends for years ... they can use Cyber Monday to attack your users, include phishing, blackhat SEO, and watering-hole attacks, where attackers have already compromised a legitimate site, but wait for a time of high traffic to launch their attack."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Brian Prince is a freelance writer for a number of IT security-focused publications. Prior to becoming a freelance reporter, he worked at eWEEK for five years covering not only security, but also a variety of other subjects in the tech industry. Before that, he worked as a ... View Full Bio

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