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11/25/2019
10:00 AM
Michael Landewe
Michael Landewe
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Time to Warn Users About Black Friday & Cyber Monday Scams

Warn your employees to avoid the inevitable scams associated with these two "holidays," or you risk compromising your company's network.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday right around the corner, cybercriminals are switching tactics. Rather than preying on the fear that our Microsoft Office, PayPal, or bank accounts have been locked, criminals are launching phishing scams that prey on our desire to get a great holiday shopping deal. After all, they know that at this time of year, consumers are spending money and looking for bargains.

And let's be honest with ourselves: Even if your company discourages employees from shopping on their company-supplied computers or smartphones, it's going to happen — especially at this time of year. And that puts your organization at risk.

Holiday phishing scams lure potential victims with offers of online deals and coupons. E-commerce retailers are primary targets for spoofing — during the holidays, Amazon tops the list of branded phishing scams, beating out Microsoft. However, legitimate brick-and-mortar stores are also aggressively offering coupons for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, making them targets for spoofing as well.

Unfortunately, at this time of year, people are more likely to be less suspicious and to fall victim to phishing emails featuring trusted retailer brands — particularly if they regularly receive emails from those companies. Research from Verizon also shows that users are significantly more susceptible when the attack comes in on a mobile phone.

Telling the Real Deals from the Fakes
The challenge email administrators and users face is how to tell the real holiday deals from the credential-harvesting phishing scams, which make up 40.9% of phishing attacks. In credential-harvesting attacks, the email itself mimics communication from the real brand, often using convincing logos and design.

Instead of the typical "ask" to change a password, however, the holiday phishing email will display a coupon or a special shopping offer of some kind. Other lures include bogus gift card offers, giveaways, contests, and too-good-to-be-true deals. The scams will also try to create a sense of "act now" urgency, like putting time limits on the deals.

The goal of the bad actor is to get the email recipients to click on a malicious link to a web page that spoofs the legitimate retailer or brand — the credential-harvesting page — and fools users into giving up their login credentials, credit card information, or personal data that can be used for identity theft.

Tips to Pass Along to Users
Education is critical to countering phishing scams. Research from Google found that even with on-the-job training and news coverage, 40% of people cannot define phishing correctly, and Gen Z users are even less likely to know what "phishing" means.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday present a great opportunity to caution your employees about the risks out there and tell them how to protect themselves. Share these tips, with the reminder that they apply year-round, not just during the holidays.

  • Hover over all URLs and make sure they are going to a legitimate website. Watch out for "lookalikes" such as "Amazon.co" instead of "Amazon.com," and never trust shortened URLs. Check links for typos, repeated letters, or other flaws that can indicate a spoofed site. When in doubt, type the web address into your browser window by hand.
  • Pay close attention to the sender's email address. The domain name should match the retailer's legitimate website. If you're reading email on your cell phone, expand the sender name to see the address.
  • Only download shopping apps from trusted stores, like the Apple App Store or Google Play.
  • If a coupon or deal is legitimate, the retailer won't ask you to log in to see it. Don't give away your login credentials to scammers.
  • If the deal seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Don't take the bait.

Remember, Black Friday and Cyber Monday scams depend on creating a sense of urgency, using these special shopping days to spur immediate action and grab deals before they're gone. Resist the sense of urgency. Stop and think before you click.

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Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "When You Know Too Much: Protecting Security Data from Security People"

Before co-founding Avanan in 2014, Michael Landewe had over 20 years of internet startup experience, starting with co-founding an ISP in 1996. He was an early employee of Network Physics, an Internet traffic performance company that was one of the first technology companies ... View Full Bio
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