As the holiday season approaches, businesses are gearing up for a time of increased sales, heightened online activity, and festive cheer. However, amid the joyous atmosphere, businesses must be vigilant, as the period from November to December is not just a time for holiday cheer but also prime hunting season for cybercriminals.
This heightened risk is particularly concentrated in the realm of online shopping, reaching its zenith during key holidays like Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, Chinese Singles Day, Super Saturday, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.
So, in the digital realm, a Grinch may be lurking in the virtual shadows, ready to exploit the festive season for malicious gain. In this article, we delve into strategies for businesses to navigate the complexities of heightened cyber threats during the holidays, ensuring a secure and joyful season for both enterprises and their valued customers. We explore the risks and tactics used by cybercriminals during this festive period and provide tips on how businesses can safeguard their digital presence.
Cyber Grinches: Common Types of Holiday Cyberattacks
The moment November arrives, the online world witnesses a profound transformation.
The holiday season, with its bustling online shopping, gift exchanges, and holiday-themed promotions, creates a perfect breeding ground for malicious actors. Hackers become much more active and aggressive during this season, seizing the opportunity to exploit the festive atmosphere and the increased online activities associated with holiday shopping and celebrations. Let’s explore some of the most common types of cyberattacks that rear their heads during this season, many of which involved brand hijacking that businesses should be wary of.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal functioning of a network, service, or website by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic, with the goals of making a website or service inaccessible, causing financial losses, reputation damage, and disruption of services. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can happen at any time of the year. They are not necessarily tied to specific dates or seasons. However, there are some factors that might make DDoS attacks more prevalent during the holiday season, given the strained networks and high traffic volume, caused by increased online activity. Attackers may take advantage of the fact that security teams may be less vigilant, making it easier for them to execute DDoS attacks. Attackers may also find it tempting to specifically target businesses and organizations during holiday events or promotions when the stakes are higher.
Brand hijacking for social engineering and phishing attacks
One of the most prevalent threats during the holiday season is social engineering and phishing. Cybercriminals exploit the goodwill and festive spirit to create deceptive emails, fake websites, and scam messages, many times using the look and feel of well-known brands. They send fraudulent emails or messages that appear to be from legitimate sources, often with enticing holiday-themed offers or fake charities. The goal is to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing sensitive information, such as credit card details or login credentials, or click on malicious links.
Cybercriminals may create enticing ads or special offers that lure shoppers into providing their credit card details. These promotions can appear on social media, in email campaigns, or on dubious websites. When it comes to holiday-themed offers, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Malware and ransomware campaigns
Malware, including ransomware, is another common menace. Cybercriminals embed malicious software in holiday-themed downloads, e-cards, and attachments. This malicious software is used to encrypt a victim’s files, and the attacker demands a ransom for the decryption key, exploiting the urgency of the situation, especially during busy holiday periods. In some cases, they may disguise malware as enticing holiday offers, waiting for users to take the bait.
E-commerce and mobile apps scams
The holiday season sees an influx of online shoppers looking for the perfect gifts. Unfortunately, this also attracts cybercriminals who create fake e-commerce websites and mobile apps. These counterfeit sites often offer popular products at unbelievably low prices, or holiday-related content or services. However, when you make a purchase, you might end up receiving subpar or counterfeit items, or your payment information and personal data may be stolen.
The enthusiasm and willingness of consumers to engage in online shopping, coupled with the plethora of holiday-themed promotions and emails, provide fertile ground for cybercriminals. It’s not a matter of if these threats will occur, but when.
In the following sections, we’ll explore strategies for businesses to protect themselves, their employees, and their customers from these holiday-themed cyberattacks.
The Grinch’s Defeat: Strengthening businesses holiday-cyber resilience
Businesses, especially those operating e-commerce platforms, can and should prepare for the cyber holiday season as well, taking steps to safeguard their online store and, more importantly, their customers’ sensitive data. Cybercriminals often target e-commerce platforms, looking for opportunities to compromise websites and steal valuable information. Here are key strategies for safeguarding e-commerce platforms:
- Regular security audits: Conduct regular security audits of your e-commerce website. This includes vulnerability assessments, code reviews, and penetration testing to identify and address potential weaknesses.
- Encryption: Ensure that your website uses secure, end-to-end encryption. This protects data as it’s transmitted between your customers and your server. An SSL/TLS certificate is essential for establishing secure connections.
- Monitor for suspicious activity: Implement real-time monitoring to detect unusual or suspicious activity on your website. This can help identify potential threats and breaches in real-time.
- Patch management: Keep your software, plugins, and other website components up to date. Cybercriminals often exploit known vulnerabilities, so timely patching is crucial.
- Fraud detection systems: Robust fraud detection systems will help you identify unusual or suspicious transactions like large, atypical purchases, multiple transactions in a short timeframe, or orders shipping to high-risk locations. It will also help in reducing chargeback costs following customer disputes, and potential reputational damage.
- Strengthen Software Supply Chain Security: Software supply chain security is paramount for businesses, especially during the heightened shopping activity of the holiday season. Cybercriminals may attempt to compromise the software and applications that underpin your e-commerce operations. Ensure that you source and use software and plugins from trusted vendors, conduct rigorous vetting of third-party components, and keep your software and systems up to date with the latest security patches.
- Employee vigilance: Encourage employees to stay vigilant during the holiday season – be cautious when opening emails, clicking on links, or downloading attachments, especially if the content is holiday-themed.
- Employee training: Train your staff, especially those handling customer data, on best practices for cybersecurity. Provide regular training and awareness programs to educate them about the risks, how to identify potential threats, and what actions to take in case of an incident. If you need help planning effective cybersecurity employee training, check out Cytek’s capability training programs.
- Incident response plan: Develop and maintain a detailed incident response plan. In the event of a breach or security incident, having a well-prepared response plan can minimize damage and recovery time.
- Customer communication: Be transparent with your customers about your security measures. Reassure them about the safety of their data and the steps you’ve taken to protect it.
- Payment security: If your e-commerce platform handles payments, comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requirements. These standards help secure payment card data and protect your customers’ financial information.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implement multi-factor authentication for critical accounts and systems. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide multiple forms of verification.
- Backup data: Regularly back up critical data and ensure that backups are securely stored and tested for restoration. This mitigates the risk of data loss in case of a ransomware attack or other incidents.
- Secure your website: If your organization maintains a website, prioritize web security. Ensure that your website is protected against common threats like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.
- Remote work guidelines: Provide employees with guidelines for secure remote work, especially if remote work is common during the holiday season. Encourage the use of secure networks, VPNs, and secure communication tools.
These important steps to safeguard e-commerce platforms will protect businesses and consumers but also demonstrate commitment to customer trust and data security, which consumers tend to appreciate over time.
The holiday season is a time of joy, and it should stay that way. But at the same time, we should not forget that as the season approaches, the digital landscape transforms into a battleground where cybercriminals wage their war of deception and exploitation, risking many businesses.
By understanding the increased risks that the holiday season brings and learning about the various types of cyber threats, you’ve already taken a crucial step toward cyber resilience.
Following the outlined guiding principles, tips and insights will bolster your cyber defense during this holiday season – remember to follow them and embrace a cybersecurity-first mindset, to ensure that the holiday spirit remains untarnished by the Grinches of the digital world.