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Christmas hackers

By Retail Technology | Sunday November 29 2020

We are now well into retail’s Golden Quarter and it’s plain to see retailers are throwing everything at it to kick start recovery. However, Radware’s Pascal Geenens, says hackers are lining up to do the same.

Online shopping has been the saviour of a retail industry squeezed by COVID-19 and, this peak season, the prospect of getting Christmas shopping done more cheaply and without the crush certainly has many of us rubbing our hands with glee. Little do they know that hackers are rubbing their hands too.  

Analysis looking at cyber-attack patterns during the pandemic and last year’s Black Friday period leads me to predict that online retailers will be deluged by attacks, to the extent that we are likely to see a 1000-fold increase of ‘Grinch-bots’ crawling ecommerce platforms. These bots, which create fake traffic on websites, are troublesome for retailers at the best of times, but few will have experienced the volume hackers will unleash this year as they capitalise on the shopping frenzy.

The main tactic hackers will use is something referred to as account takeovers using ‘credential stuffing’, a practice that uses automated bots to carry out cross checks on stolen customer data and login information against that held by ecommerce sites. If the bots find a match, then hackers can literally take over the account to steal and use credit card information, gift cards and hard earned loyalty points, or sell the verified data on the dark web. 

Digitalisation plans 

That’s not the only threat. The pandemic has forced many companies to move their business online. 76% of companies adopted cloud services faster than they had planned but retail was the sector that moved fastest often bringing forward digitalisation plans by years. 

Making contactless trading happen relied on the cloud and adopting applications to facilitate transactions. Yet, many companies did it so fast that security was a secondary consideration. They overlooked the fact that putting more online meant more was available to be attacked. 

And attacked they were, as hackers capitalised on the plethora of new unsecured applications that were ripe for the picking. Some 40% of companies reported an increase in cyberattacks amid the early months of the pandemic. Everything from trying to slow down or take a site offline completely, through interference with inventory and the supply chain processes, to theft of IP and customer data. You name it, it happened. And it still is happening. 

Fighting back 

So how do retailers manage the threat? Retailers have to assume they will be attacked. It’s a case of when not if, and they must be ready to react. The minute unusual traffic patterns show up on website logs so they should assume an attack is underway, designed to either slow the site down, take it offline or steal data. 

It’s vital to remember that bots work fast. Much faster than the human brain. So, having a system that can detect and do something about it for you automatically is the only way to win the battle - no one can keep up with the rate Grinch bots or any other form of automated attack will work. 

Time will tell if retailers get their Golden Quarter, but certainly protecting the efforts they have made to continue trading and attract customers in exceptional circumstances has to be a priority. If not, hackers will boast a Golden Quarter of their own. 

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