It’s the most wonderful time of the year, for online thieves

26 Nov 2015

As the year winds to a close, e-commerce spikes to new heights, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas sales attracting more and more people towards shopping. And where there are an abundance of online transactions, there are risks.

45m fraud attempts in 90 days. That’s what ThreatMatrix discovered in the UK earlier this month, as it warned of increased activity by cyber-criminals.

“A major spike in fraud is anticipated this festive season,” said Lizzie Clitheroe, after the surge in attacks came during the usually quiet Q3 part of the year.

“Given this pattern of attacks, and the estimated £1bn-plus set to be spent on Black Friday in the UK alone, this year could see fraud attempts almost double the 11.4 million we blocked in 2014 over the peak shopping period.”

Numbers are key, as any online cyberattacks that seek to steal money from victims rely on very low-yielding scams, requiring huge amounts of potential subjects in order to catch the odd fish here and there.

And it’s not just the UK under threat. Given the removal of borders that e-commerce has brought, this is a global concern, with the US government-backed Retail Cyber Intelligence Sharing Centre going so far as actually publishing ‘2015 hacking season’ advice.

“Some types of attacks depend on high-volume activity to succeed,” it says. “For example, phishing emails that include a fake retail order or delivery confirmation are being sent more frequently at times when consumers are likely to be shopping online for presents.”

Computerised shopping tills are, perhaps surprisingly, home to some threats at this time of year, with Modpos malware apparently doing the rounds. And here in Ireland, too, concerns are growing.

Galway-based security company IDT911 is warning that some simple safety procedures need to be introduced, by both consumers and retailers. These tips are nothing new – shop on secure sites, read retailer reviews, use credit cards not debit cards etc – yet they are still things that many people overlook.

Indeed, despite the consumer often feeling out of pocket when such issues arise, IDT911 notes that it is online retailers that are “heavily exposed” when it comes to online fraud, “as it is they and not the banks or customers” who carry the liability.

In truth, shopping securely online is much like browsing securely online. Know what sites you are on, know the process you need to go through and don’t simply click ‘okay’ to every box that appears.

Christmas bauble image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic