How to protect your company from cyber threats during the holiday shopping season.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday mark the official beginning of the holiday season. These two days following Thanksgiving are Americans’ favorite days to shop, with a whopping combined $20.42 billion spent by consumers in 2022, according to Adobe.
But Black Friday and Cyber Monday are also favorites among cybercriminals. Although there isn’t a neat statistic on the spike of cyberattacks, there is evidence that cybercrime did increase on these days in 2022:
- Google reported blocking 10% more spam and scams in the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
- Researchers at Check Point Security found dozens of fake websites spoofing well-known brands, and they found these websites were getting an increasing number of visits as Black Friday approached.
- CyberGRX noted an increase in fake delivery notifications, banking alerts, travel offers, and holiday job offers.
- Dark web intelligence company Searchlight Security also saw deals on tools for cybercriminals, including ‘Black Friday Sale Prices’ for ATM skimmers and other malware.
Simply put, consumers will be shopping on both these days in 2023—and cybercriminals know it.
But how does this affect your business?
First and foremost, employees are consumers. They may be home for the holidays (or they may work from home), but employees can still put your company at risk. Wherever they are, employees with access to company devices may inadvertently use these devices to shop. Or, if the don’t have strong passwords, they might accidentally give cybercriminals access to sensitive enterprise information with compromised credentials.
Alternatively, your business might participate in these shopping events. If you plan to partake in Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals for consumers, you’re also at higher risk of cyberattacks. Cybercriminals know employees are often “OOO (out of office)” during the holidays and that their guards are probably down. They also know that businesses, like consumers, are likely to conduct more transactions on these days and less likely to notice if something is financially amiss.
This guide from FullScope IT will help your business stay secure during the upcoming holiday shopping season. It contains an overview of common cyber threats to look out for and cybersecurity tips for keeping your business safe on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With this resource at your disposal, you and your team can prepare to tackle these challenges ahead of time and enjoy the magic of the holiday season without worrying about cyberattacks.
Common Cyber Threats on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The digital rush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales is a veritable feast for cybercriminals. It’s a period when the human element—the most unpredictable factor in cybersecurity—becomes the Achilles’ heel for businesses. Employees swept up in the holiday spirit may lower their digital defenses and use company devices for personal shopping, inadvertently exposing your business to cyber threats. But when the line between professional diligence and personal convenience blurs, the door to malicious exploits opens.
During these peak shopping days, businesses are typically engrossed in managing sales, customer service, and inventory, often overlooking the looming threat of cyberattacks. For instance, a small business riding the viral wave of a hit product on social media platforms like TikTok could be in a cybersecurity nightmare if its digital defenses aren’t robust. A simple hashtag can make a business trend—but it can also signal botnets to target and cripple the business’s website through automated attacks, leading to dire repercussions like data breaches and lost sales.
Cybercriminals are not choosy; they target vulnerabilities indiscriminately. From global chains to the smallest mom-and-pop shops, any detected weakness can lead to an attack. Ultimately, cyberattacks are mostly financially motivated—according to Verizon, about 90% have financial incentives.
The statistics paint a grim picture, especially for small businesses in retail, which are 50% more prone to cyberattacks than their larger counterparts. The economic toll of such cyber incidents is steep, with losses approximating $6.9 billion. Yet, a staggering number of these crimes remain in the shadows, with only up to 12% being reported. Even more concerning is that 73% of companies find themselves unprepared to counter a cyberattack.
For businesses, understanding these cyber threats is the first step to protecting personal data, customer information, and your integrity. Reputation matters to your brand in today’s digital-first world, and a single breach in your security could have devastating social and financial consequences.
Here are some common cyber threats to look out for on Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
As the holiday season’s sales frenzy kicks into high gear, so does the frequency of phishing attacks. Cybercriminals craft emails that are the digital equivalent of wolves in sheep’s clothing, masquerading as irresistible Black Friday deals or messages from reputable financial institutions requesting verification of login credentials, bank account information, or credit card numbers. They might also pose as shipping companies, providing links to track “lost” packages, which, when clicked, can lead to malware infections or data theft. These phishing emails prey on the heightened sense of urgency and distraction of the holiday rush, making even the savviest users more susceptible to deception.
Malware and Ransomware
The virtual aisles of online shopping become a minefield during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with various types of malware hidden in the most unsuspecting places. Malware, including the dreaded ransomware, can lurk behind an advertisement for an exclusive deal or within a downloadable shopping app. Once this malicious software infiltrates a system, it can lock critical files and demand a ransom or silently steal sensitive information over time. This not only disrupts business operations—it also puts customers’ personal information at risk.
Credit Card Fraud and Payment Scams
E-commerce sites see a massive spike in traffic during these sales events, and cybercriminals aren’t far behind, targeting online transactions to capture credit card and debit card details. They create sophisticated fake websites that replicate the look and feel of legitimate retail sites, tricking online shoppers into inputting their payment details. These sites may offer high-demand items at substantially reduced prices to lure unsuspecting shoppers, leading to direct financial loss and potential identity theft.
Another common threat is the takeover of online accounts through brute force attacks that crack weak passwords or exploit stolen credentials from previous data breaches. These unauthorized accesses can have far-reaching consequences, from draining customer loyalty points to making fraudulent purchases. Ultimately, these attacks often lead to a tarnished brand reputation and a loss of consumer trust.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can overwhelm and incapacitate a retailer’s website, rendering it inaccessible to legitimate users. This form of cyber onslaught is particularly harmful during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as every minute of downtime translates to significant revenue loss. These attacks are not just limited to large retailers; smaller businesses can also be targeted, often with more devastating effects due to their limited cybersecurity resources.
Public Wi-Fi Vulnerabilities
The convenience of public Wi-Fi networks is a double-edged sword, especially during the holiday travel season. Employees and customers using public Wi-Fi to access work emails or make purchases can inadvertently expose sensitive information to lurking cyber adversaries. These unsecured networks are prime hunting grounds for hackers to intercept data, such as login credentials and payment information, which could lead to fraud or unauthorized access to corporate networks.
How Cyberattacks Affect Different Industries on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Cybersecurity is no longer a concern exclusive to the tech-savvy—it has become a critical issue for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) across all sectors. As these enterprises increasingly digitize their operations and data, they become attractive targets for cybercriminals, especially during high-traffic events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Rapidly growing companies are particularly vulnerable; they often have substantial data and fast-growing customer bases yet may lack the cybersecurity infrastructure necessary to protect them. Indeed, according to Verizon, businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees were implicated in 46% of all cyber breaches in 2021. Many companies simply lack the resources to recover from the repercussions of a cyberattack, including operational downtime, reputational damage, and significant sales losses.
Even critical infrastructure is not immune, as evidenced by the 2021 advisory from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), urging vigilance against heightened cyber threats during holidays and weekends.
Here are just a few examples of how specific cyberattacks can affect different industries on Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
E-commerce platforms, bustling with holiday transactions, are fertile grounds for cyber threats, such as:
- Targeted Phishing Campaigns: Emails mimicking official communications to steal login credentials and payment information.
- Website Cloning and Payment Frauds: Fake websites that clone legitimate e-commerce platforms can trick customers into making purchases and divulging credit card information.
The retail industry also faces unique cyber challenges during these high-traffic events, including:
- Point-of-Sale Malware: Malware attacks on POS systems can lead to stolen credit card details during transaction processing.
- DDoS Attacks: DDoS attacks can take websites offline during critical sales periods, resulting in significant financial losses.
Banking and Financial Services
Financial services, the backbone of holiday transactions, must also guard against sophisticated cyberattacks, such as:
- Credential Stuffing: Stolen account information is used to gain unauthorized access to financial accounts.
- ATM Skimming and Wire Transfer Frauds: Increased ATM skimming and wire transfer frauds exploit the high volume of holiday transactions.
Hospitality and Travel
The hospitality and travel sector, experiencing a surge in holiday bookings, is also a target for cyberattacks, including:
- Booking Scams: Scammers create bogus travel deals and hotel bookings to swindle customers.
- Loyalty Program Fraud: Loyalty accounts are breached, resulting in the theft of points and personal information.
Cybersecurity Tips for Businesses on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The average consumer spent over $500 during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2022, according to Deloitte. But with extended shopping hours and a surge in mobile and online sales, businesses must protect their revenue and their customers’ sensitive information.
Here are some tips to strengthen your business’s cyber defenses during the holiday shopping season:
Tip #1: Look for the telltale signs of phishing.
Phishing scams have become increasingly sophisticated and challenging to discern from legitimate deals in the whirlwind of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Businesses must instill a sense of skepticism in their employees regarding any offers that come through email or online messages. A heightened state of alert and a protocol for verifying the authenticity of such communications is the first line of defense against cybercriminals looking to exploit the festive chaos.
- Recognize the Red Flags: Train your staff to identify common phishing indicators, such as unsolicited emails with urgent language, requesting immediate action, or containing offers that appear too good to be true.
- Verify Suspicious Links and Attachments: Encourage employees to hover over links to see where they actually lead and to be wary of downloading attachments from unverified sources.
- Use Official Communication Channels: Reinforce the importance of using known, official contact methods to verify any communications. If there’s any uncertainty around an email or message, the best action is to contact the company directly through their official customer service channels.
Tip #2: Educate against malware and ransomware.
The holiday season brings a spike in sales and an increase in threats like malware and ransomware, which can infiltrate systems to devastating effect. Businesses must educate employees on recognizing and mitigating these risks, as human insight often complements technological safeguards. Awareness and understanding of the signs of suspicious activity can prevent these threats from taking root and causing harm.
- Conduct Security Awareness Training: Provide thorough training for employees on recognizing the signs of a malware infection or a ransomware attack. This can include unexpected pop-ups, sluggish computer performance, and unsolicited requests for payment or information.
- Update Regularly and Manage Patches: Ensure all systems and software are updated with the latest security patches. Cybercriminals often exploit known vulnerabilities that have been left unpatched.
Tip #3: Monitor Transactions for Unusual Activity
During the bustling holiday season, especially on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the volume of transactions can obscure signs of fraudulent activity. Retail businesses, in particular, should be hyper-aware of the transactions under their watch. By implementing a robust monitoring system, businesses can quickly identify and respond to unusual activity that may indicate a cybersecurity threat.
- Secure Payment Processes: Ensure that your payment gateways are secure and that all transactions are encrypted to prevent interception by cybercriminals.
- Regularly Review Transaction Records: Assign staff to review transaction records frequently for any signs of irregularities or inconsistencies.
- Educate Customers: Inform customers about the signs of fraudulent transactions and encourage them to report any suspicious activity on their accounts.
Tip #4: Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
As the holiday shopping season approaches, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a crucial barrier against unauthorized access to your business’s systems. Even if login credentials are compromised, MFA requires additional verification, making it significantly harder for cybercriminals to breach your network.
- Understand MFA: Educate your team about the importance of MFA, explaining how it adds an extra layer of security by requiring two or more verification factors, which can include something the user knows (password), something the user has (security token), and something the user is (biometric verification).
- MFA on All Accounts: Apply MFA to all company accounts, not just the ones dealing with sensitive information. The more barriers between a potential intruder and your internal systems, the better.
- Backup Authentication Methods: Provide alternative authentication methods if the primary method is inaccessible, ensuring employees can always authenticate securely.
Tip #5: Conduct Proactive Security Testing
Before the wave of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers hits, make sure your website and digital infrastructure can withstand the pressure—not just in terms of traffic but also from a security standpoint. A comprehensive security assessment can identify potential weaknesses cybercriminals could exploit during these peak periods.
- Penetration Testing: Engage cybersecurity experts to perform penetration testing on your systems. This simulates an attack on your systems to identify and rectify vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
- Vulnerability Scanning: Regularly scan your network and systems for vulnerabilities. This should be part of an ongoing security protocol but is especially important before high-traffic events.
- Security Audits: Conduct thorough audits of your security policies and procedures. Ensure they are current and aligned with best practices, particularly regarding data handline and customer privacy.
- Employee Access Review: Reassess which employees have access to sensitive data and systems and ensure that this access is still necessary and appropriate.
- Website Load Testing: Verify that your website can handle a surge in traffic without compromising security measures. Increased traffic should not lead to lowered defenses.
Tip #6: Encrypt Data Across All Company Devices
Encryption is another critical defense in an era where data breaches can tarnish a business’s reputation overnight, transforming sensitive data into unreadable code for anyone not authorized to view it. With increased online activity during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, securing inbound and outbound data is essential.
- Encrypt Sensitive Data: Make sure all sensitive data, especially customer personal data and payment information, is encrypted. This applies to data at rest (stored data) and data in transit (data transmitted online).
- Educate Employees on Encryption: Ensure all employees understand the importance of encryption and how to use encryption properly when handling company data.
- Encrypt Endpoints: Apply encryption on laptops, mobile devices, and other endpoints that may access or store sensitive business data to protect against data theft in case of device loss or theft.
Tip #7: Partner with Cybersecurity Experts
The holiday shopping season can be a vulnerable time for businesses as they become prime targets for cyberattacks. Partnering with a seasoned IT service provider like FullScope IT can offer an all-encompassing safeguard for your business.
With over two decades of experience, FullScope IT has strengthened the defenses of numerous organizations with a suite of specialized services, including managed IT, business continuity, cybersecurity, cloud services, VoIP, and compliance services.
Protect Your Business This Holiday Shopping Season with FullScope IT
Most businesses simply aren’t prepared for a cyberattack—especially on the year’s busiest shopping days. With managed IT and cybersecurity services from FullScope IT, you can enjoy the holiday season without worrying about the security of your business.
Here are just some of the services we offer to protect your business from cyber threats:
✔ 24/7/365 Proactive Monitoring and Maintenance: We ensure your IT systems are operational around the clock every day of the year.
✔ Network Security Management: We fortify your network’s defenses against cyber threats with firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and continuous monitoring.
✔ Dedicated IT Help Desk: We are ready to solve your software or hardware issues with immediate technical assistance, just a call or click away.
✔ Secure Email Solutions: We help protect sensitive information, guard against cyber threats, and maintain the integrity of your business communications.
✔ Application Security: We protect your applications with thorough security assessments, code reviews, and penetration testing to identify and rectify vulnerabilities.
✔ Data Backup and Recovery: We guarantee your data is accessible and recoverable, even post-disaster.
✔ Cybersecurity Consulting and Training: We offer expert consulting to customize your security strategies and provide training to staff.
Start with a free and confidential cybersecurity risk assessment from FullScope IT to reveal where your company is at high risk of ransomware, hackers, and other devastating cyber threats.
Contact us today to learn more about how FullScope IT can help protect your business from cyberattacks on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.