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Vulnerabilities / Threats

12/8/2013
01:31 PM
Tom Parker
Tom Parker
Commentary
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Cyber Monday And The Threat Of Economic Espionage

All signs point to such an event becoming a very real possibility

Based on recent predictions by numerous market analysts, Cyber Monday, the online equivalent of the Black Friday shopping event, is well on its way to overtake physical retail sales numbers in coming years.

According to a recent article by Bloomberg, Cyber Monday online sales were up approximately 20% this year, with many consumers preferring the comfort of their couches to fighting the crowds in physical stores, which are synonymous with Black Friday sales. On a related note, sales on Black Friday itself saw their first decline since 2009.

Post-9/11, I was involved in a number of think-tank activities to review what future attacks might "look like," including how cyber may play a future role in state- and terrorist-sponsored attacks against the United States. While seemingly unrelated at the time, one of the more popular scenarios discussed among physical security folks, related to economic espionage, was targeting consumer outlets.

The scenario was pretty straightforward: Terror group X sends individuals/cells with small arms into malls in every major city in the country, creating mass panic, causing retail store purchases to slow to a point at which some of America's largest outlets are hemorrhaging money, and causing harm to the national economy.

According to the National Retail Federation, per ShopperTrak data (which counts foot traffic at malls), Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year. Let's now consider life in five, perhaps 10 years' time, where the busiest retail day of the year is no longer in stores, but online.

For the well-equipped and motivated adversary, this no longer becomes a case of frightening customers from the storefront. It's a simple case of denying them access. As we have seen with many of America's largest financial institutions, denial-of-service attacks remain an effective method, which has evidently become the tactic of choice for at least one nation state's cyberoffensive. Taking into consideration the increase in popularity of Cyber Monday, the dollars invested by online sellers in preparing for and supporting the event (think marketing, planning, infrastructure, increased stock purchases, warehousing, etc.), distributed across an economy that is increasingly reliant on the event to make its Q4 numbers, could result in a significant event that negatively impacts consumer confidence, the financial stability of major retailers, and possibly, in turn, the U.S. economy.

Predicting the potential short- and long-term impacts of such an event is a job for economists; however, all signs point to such an event becoming a very real possibility, which those depending on online retail should be seriously contemplating now -- not attempting to handle as it happens, unlike many of the financial institutions earlier this year.

Tom Parker is CTO at FusionX

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