Industry Trends

‘Tis the Season for Cyberattacks. Retailers: Here’s How to Protect Your Brand

By Courtney Radke | November 14, 2022

It’s early November, and consumers are making their lists and checking them twice.

Holiday shopping and related promotions are already in full swing. Retailers like Amazon already held early Prime Days in October. Numerous other big-box retailers are offering Black Friday-style discounts to appeal to consumers’ desires to stock up on gifts earlier this year.

Rising prices and inflation are top of mind for many consumers, meaning shoppers are counting on these discounts more than ever. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), 44% of holiday shoppers say that it’s better to purchase their gifts and seasonal items now, as they expect inflation will continue to impact prices for the duration of 2022. The same NRF survey also showed that 58% of shoppers say promotions and sales are more important when shopping for holiday items and gifts (only 48% said the same last year).  

Online shopping for this November and December holiday season is expected to total nearly $210 billion, yet analysts predict year-over-year holiday spending to grow by just 2.5%.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Cybercrime

The holiday shopping season ushers in plenty of benefits for retailers, but it's also the most wonderful time of the year for crafty cybercriminals. This busy time gives rise to opportunities for bad actors to carry out targeted attacks, all while security and IT teams are putting more effort into keeping the business running smoothly, managing web traffic spikes, and so much more. Additionally, click-happy, deal-conscious consumers are increasingly vulnerable to phishing emails and smishing—phishing scams sent via text message—attempts this time of year. It's too easy to click on a supposed promotion from a favorite brand without thinking twice. This explains why social engineering accounts for one of the top attack patterns in retail year after year. No, that game console you’ve been eyeing isn’t 90% off and no, you should not pay for your holiday purchases via wire transfer. As the saying goes, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), consumers can avoid holiday scams by:

  • Being aware of what you click or tap on
  • Knowing who you are buying from
  • Being careful about how you pay
  • Monitoring the shipping process

But what about the retailers? There are numerous steps retailers can and should take to enhance their security posture, protect their brand, and ensure a safer shopping experience for their customers during the holiday season (and beyond). And while making significant changes to a security program or implementing new technology might not be possible with the shopping season already underway, there's plenty that retailers can still do while working with existing resources to predict threats better and prevent disruption.

Cloud is a Top Attack Target for Retailers

Retailers continue to embrace the adoption and expansion of cloud-based (typically multi-cloud) workloads, such as e-commerce websites, mobile apps, loyalty programs, and microsites to create more convenient and personalized connections with customers. However, as retailers move quickly to meet market demands by introducing new digital experiences for shoppers, mistakes are bound to happen, and security gaps inevitably pop up. This leaves the door open for cybercriminals to benefit. 

"When protecting brand assets powered by the cloud, tasks such as gaining visibility and control over your potential attack surface, quickly patching vulnerabilities (or mitigating attack methods), and implementing strong API security controls are essential."

For example, system intrusion is another prevalent attack pattern executed in the retail industry, generally found as part of a malware campaign or data capture function commonly seen in Magecart-type attacks. These attacks exploit vulnerabilities or utilize stolen or “misplaced” credentials, which allow attackers to capture sensitive information from online payment forms, such as passwords and credit card information. According to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, malware attacks using a “capture app data” functionality are seven times more likely to occur in retail versus other industries.

When protecting brand assets powered by the cloud, tasks such as gaining visibility and control over your potential attack surface, quickly patching vulnerabilities (or mitigating attack methods), and implementing strong API security controls are essential. Additionally, retailers can benefit from a comprehensive cloud visibility solution that provides an easy-to-use dashboard for monitoring workloads across multiple clouds.

In-Store Shopping Demands Connectivity, Flexibility, and Better Security

The physical shopping experience continues to evolve. Retailers are capitalizing on digitally-driven initiatives that aim to create a more personalized and frictionless experience for the customer. The retailers benefit from these initiatives too, as they now have more ways to influence the path of purchase and the point of purchase, and additional avenues for gaining insights from would-be shoppers and repeat customers. Retailers are doing all they can to bring the online experience inside the four walls of traditional brick-and-mortar locations—I like to call this, “the marriage of physical and digital.”

Retailers have taken different approaches to capturing the hearts and minds of their customers. Some have invested in AI-assisted ordering kiosks or tablet-based Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems for shoppers to browse, order, and buy products more efficiently. Others have experimented with augmented reality experiences that let consumers try a product or service before they make a purchase. A myriad of IoT devices—sensors, beacons, and digital touchpoints of all shapes and sizes—bring it all together.

However, this rapid expansion of retailers’ digital footprints means that physical branches demand more connectivity and reliability­—as well as more security controls—than they once required. Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), Wi-Fi and wired access, and secure SD-WAN solutions are becoming increasingly popular among retailers looking to consolidate and converge their networks. When deployed as part of a comprehensive SD-Branch solution, this combination of technology scales quickly and enables those bandwidth-intensive “always on” applications and technologies to operate consistently and securely. This is essential for retailers to move fast to meet customer demand and build loyalty in a hyper-competitive market.

Brand Reputation Protection Requires Vigilance

The customer web experience and e-commerce platforms have evolved considerably over the past decade. Retailers know that customers want an easier way to shop, more curated experiences, and a frictionless checkout experience. And they’re willing to provide their data to make it all happen. The widespread use of content management systems (CMS) and content delivery networks (CDN) make it much easier for retailers to spin new websites quickly. Yet sometimes it’s hard to tell the real websites from those created by bad actors who want to fool unsuspecting shoppers.

Last year, we identified several fake websites that surfaced early in the holiday shopping season. One example was a popular power tools website that cybercriminals spoofed. Customers who placed orders through the fake website received knockoff products. We expect to see attackers continue to spoof retailer websites and social media accounts in hopes of fooling shoppers into handing over their credit card details, resulting in a quick payday for the bad actors.

These types of attacks, while not only being possibly financially damaging for would-be customers, are particularly impactful to one of the company’s crown jewels: its brand reputation. It is critically important for businesses to protect their customers from these types of attacks, even when they don’t necessarily know where they’re coming from. One of the best ways to prevent these types of attacks is via a Digital Risk Protection Service (DRPS), which provides proactive monitoring and risk analysis of a brands’ digital assets and gives a view from the attacker’s prospective—hopefully helping security teams to stop the threats before they ever have a chance to turn into real attacks.

Keep Your Brand and Customers Safe This Season

Clever cybercriminals are constantly looking for new ways to take advantage of brands and their customers during the busiest shopping time of the year. But if retailers stay cyber-aware and maintain a proactive approach to security this season, cybercriminals don’t have to put a damper on the festivities. To keep your brand and customers safe:

✓ Maximize the security technology and partnerships you have in place

✓ Monitor your assets proactively to the highest degree possible

✓ Educate employees, and customers, on smart cyber hygiene practices, encouraging them to report anything suspicious.

Taking these steps to protect your brand and customers will make for a much happier holiday season.

Find out more about how Fortinet protects retailers against cyber attacks and threats to help retailers secure digital transformation initiatives.