There’s never been a better time to start or grow an e-commerce business. According to one study of e-commerce trends, an expected 279.5 percent increase in sales worldwide is expected to yield over $4.9 trillion dollars in e-commerce sales in 2021. But alongside that opportunity there exist numerous risks for startups and big companies alike. Threats from complicated hacks to social engineering make the need for security in e-commerce clearer than ever.
In order to take advantage of the bountiful future of e-commerce, you’ll need to set your company up with a robust cybersecurity framework. Mitigating risks and responding to incidents in real time will be the difference between success and failure.
But what does effective e-commerce security look like?
Basic Guide to Cybersecurity in E-commerce
In traditional brick and mortar commerce, security measures focus at least as much on physical assets and vulnerabilities as they do on the digital side of businesses. While e-commerce does typically need physical security as well, there is far more of a focus on cybersecurity matters. Since most of business is conducted online, that’s where your security should be focused.
This guide will break down everything you need to know about cybersecurity in e-commerce.
In the sections that follow, we’ll first establish the biggest threats that face any e-commerce company. Then, we’ll break down some of the best and most effective ways to mitigate these risks, and respond to any attacks that you do encounter.
Biggest Threats Facing E-Commerce Enterprises
The most common vectors of attack facing e-commerce businesses break down into four broad categories:
- Corrosive attacks (malware, etc.)
- Interception of information (skimming, etc.)
- Disruption of services (DDoS attacks)
- Social engineering (phishing, etc.)
The particular ways in which these attacks can harm your business vary, but all are leveraged with similar end goals of compromising your assets and enriching the hackers. Often, cybercriminals will leverage multiple (or all) of these forms of attacks, even simultaneously.
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these entails, as well as how you can deal with each type.
Corrosion – Malware and Viruses
Malware, or malicious software, is an umbrella term for various kinds of corrosive programs created by hackers to damage your computer, network, and business. E-commerce is far from the only victim, as malware presents a threat for every computer and user.
Some of the most common forms of malware include:
- Viruses and worms – Programs that spread themselves like a viral infection, infecting various files and destroying or otherwise compromising data. Often, “Trojan Horse” style viruses pass themselves off as neutral or benevolent programs.
- Ransomware – Programs that seize the functionality of your system and demand a particular action be taken, such as the payment of a ransom fee, before operation is returned to normal. Often, incriminating data (real or fabricated) is used as leverage.
- Backdoors – Programs that circumvent and compromise access and account management. They allow for attackers to illegitimately access key assets and resources without passing through normal screening procedures like authentication.
- Rootkits and evasion – Programs that facilitate the adoption or spread of other, more directly harmful forms of malware. Rootkits make it easier for viruses to land on a computer, and evasion-focused software helps them stay undetected for longer.
Being that malware is one of the biggest and most common threats facing all computer users, basic malware protection is both essential and easily accessible. But another key countermeasure is using a firewall (see below).
Interception – Skimming and MITM
Another major style of attack involves a digital equivalent of eavesdropping. Hackers often try to steal information by way of interception, posing as an individual they’re not or employing bots to collect data they’ll parse for useful (read: sensitive) nuggets of information.
One way they do this is through a process of skimming. Skimming entails hackers pulling information entered by customers onto websites they believe to be secure. The hackers spoof these websites, putting up decoys that intercept the data in real time.
Another method involves “man in the middle,” or MITM. In this kind of attack, a hacker intervenes in email or other asynchronous communication and dupes one or both parties (the client and your own representative) into thinking they are communicating with each other. Instead, the hacker makes off with any sensitive information.
To prevent interception, all sites and communication need to be secured verified—personnel and clientele need to know they shouldn’t communicate sensitive information haphazardly.
Disruption – Distributed Denial of Service
A complex and advanced form of attack, distributed denial of service (DDoS) is a way for hackers to completely overwhelm your systems and leave you unable to operate. Then, like ransomware, they demand payment to return service to normal. How does it work?
A DDoS can be initiated in a number of ways, but the overall procedure is generally the same:
- Hackers create ways for innumerable requests and traffic to be targeted toward your servers through some combination of fake IP addresses, zombie computers, and bots.
- The sheer volume of traffic shuts down your systems, both incapacitating you and opening up further vulnerabilities due to your security being compromised.
- The hackers demand a ransom or other action be completed. Upon receipt (or victim’s refusal) they may cease attacking or demand even more compensation.
A digital analog to extortion, DDoS is especially effective against e-commerce businesses for whom downtime is extremely dangerous. The best way to combat the threat of DDoS is to screen all incoming traffic carefully. Any illegitimate requests should not be able to consume bandwidth, which should be reserved for confirmed legitimate sources only.
Social Engineering – (Spear) Phishing, etc.
These attacks involve a coordinated attempt to convince people that they’re communicating with someone they’re not, in order to extract information or resources from them. Phishing is one of the best known kinds of social engineering attacks. Its paradigmatic example is the infamous Nigerian prince scam, which has been around since as early as the 1980s.
Phishing breaks down into two major categories:
- Phishing – Generalized, large-scale emails sent out en masse to an untargeted population. The hacker poses as a celebrity or other figure of notoriety that anyone could know or feel sympathy for and asks for help.
- Spear phishing – Targeted attacks aimed at one person or a small group of people. The hacker poses as someone close to the victim and may ask for personal information or assistance they’d only share with a close associate. When these attacks target executives, they’re often referred to as “whaling.”
These forms of social engineering take advantage of people’s laxed or underdeveloped cybersecurity literacy. As such, the best way to counteract them is with intensive training and skill building. Teach your clientele and personnel the tell-tale signs of a phishing scam, and the chances that they’ll fall for one will drop.
Solutions to Common E-Commerce Security Threats
When cybercriminals decide to attack a business, they prepare a complex, often multifaceted plan. They may leverage multiple or all of the methods above, as well as any number of other tools at their disposal. That’s why, beyond taking the individual countermeasures detailed above, you also need to equip yourself with particular defenses against all attacks.
Solutions that can prevent and help respond to or recover from these threats break down into four main categories, as well:
- Basic, first-line defenses (firewalls, etc.)
- Control over access (password management)
- Offensive-minded analysis (penetration testing)
- All-in-one packages (overall threat management)
Let’s take a closer look at each:
First Line of Defense – Firewalls and Web Filtering
The most basic cyberdefense protections start on the perimeter. Cybersecurity firewalls’ namesakes in the physical world are there to prevent fire from permeating into or throughout a structure. They confine the fire by not letting it pass through, as a normal wall would. Likewise, digital firewalls prevent malware and other forms of attacks from even entering your network.
A firewall is also analogous to a moat.
It functions as both a practical and symbolic defense that hinders attackers who attempt to storm your castle while also dissuading them from trying in the first place.
But sometimes a firewall is not enough; you may also consider adding more layers of screening for all incoming and outgoing data. Services like proactive web filtering act like a web or net to catch anything that might slip through the cracks of a firewall.
Access Control – Password Management
Defending your network from attack isn’t just about shoring up your exterior and preventing intrusion. It also has to do with guarding against attacks from within, or bypassing authentication by stealing or guessing passwords.
There are three main elements of effective password management:
- Credential strength – Passwords must be difficult to guess, containing multiple different kinds of characters, in different cases. Ideally, users should choose passphrases, or strings of multiple words and spaces. These must also be updated regularly.
- Encryption (hashing) – Even the strongest passwords can still be cracked by algorithm. Encryption, or “hashing,” converts each character into a string of randomly generated characters, making passwords exponentially harder to crack.
- Multi-factor authentication – Finally, passwords themselves are not the only answer. Users should utilize at least two factors of authentication, validating the password with something they have (a second device) or know (the name of a family member).
It’s important to integrate these practices with intensive training and holding all users accountable for upkeep of their accounts and credentials.
Offense Provides Defense – Penetration Testing
It’s something of a cliche, but the best defense is often a strong offense. That’s the guiding philosophy behind penetration testing, a form of ethical hacking that helps you understand the nuances and depth of threats posed to your network.
How does it work?
When penetration testing, an organization contracts a team of cybersecurity analysts with expertise in hacking. The organization agrees to let the team launch a supervised attack in order to study the ways that hackers would penetrate into their networks.
These can begin from scratch, as in “black hat” testing, or from a privileged position, as in “white hat” testing. The former typically measures how quickly a hacker could gain control of your systems, whereas the latter measures what exactly he/she could do once inside.
The testers produce valuable data about what vulnerabilities need to be patched, enabling you to make it harder for an actual malevolent hacker to achieve the same level of penetration.
All-in-One – Threat Vulnerability Management
The most robust and efficient solution of all is one that combines all these measures, tools, and practices into one. RSI Security’s threat and vulnerability management is such a solution.
Not only does our threat and vulnerability suite of services include all of the above, it also integrates into a broader cybersecurity infrastructure and implementation plan. Our experts work closely with your in-house IT and technological personnel to make threat and incident management a seamless part of your entire cybersecurity framework.
After thorough analysis of your risk profile and the state of your e-commerce security system, we’ll develop an action plan that’s attainable given your needs and means. Then, we’ll walk you through every step of the process.
A Robust E-commerce Security System: RSI Security
Here at RSI, we know that e-commerce businesses face unique challenges when it comes to keeping clients’, customers, and stakeholders information safe. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing cybersecurity solutions that work. That goes for threat vulnerability management and any other form of cyberdefense assistance your company may need.
Our wide range of services also includes:
- Virtual CISO
- Cloud security services
- Architecture implementation
- Cybersecurity technical writing
- Regulatory compliance assistance
No matter what kind of cybersecurity you have in place, professional help is the best way to maximize your safety. With over a decade of experience helping companies of all sizes with cybersecurity, RSI Security is your first and best option.
If you’re in need of security in e-commerce, contact RSI Security today!