Cybersecurity: Tips and strategies for your online store
The sheer volume and value of transactions that take place through online shopping make it a target for frequent cybersecurity attacks. As your online business grows, you might encounter a variety of threats, and it is necessary to be prepared.
Customer data is another valuable element that attackers often attempt to steal. It is difficult to counter these threats and prevent them if you do not know what to expect. In this blog, we’ll give you a basic idea of the most common eCommerce security threats you should look out for, along with some of the effective counter-measures you can try to keep your online store secure.
Common security threats that e-commerce sites face
There are plenty of eCommerce threats that most online retailers need to be aware of. From hacking to identity theft, all the way to credit card fraud, the list goes on. But before we get into the many solutions you can try out, let’s walk you through some of the more common threats.
Credit card scams happen on a mass scale sometimes. It is wise to be on the lookout when criminals attempt to steal your customer’s credit card information and use it to make huge purchases.
Another common threat is when fraudsters use your customer’s account to request returns and refunds. They may switch the product, obtain a refund, and steal it while the customer remains oblivious. This is why it is super important to ensure that there are multiple authenticating factors to keep your customer’s account as secure as yours.
If you’re an avid Mr.Robot fan, chances are you know what a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack is. It floods your website server with an unmanageable multitude of requests to force it to crash. This kind of disruption is orchestrated on a mass scale.
Brute-force attacks are programs that run every conceivable possible combination to your account. It is the digital version of trying several combinations to force open a lock. The only difference is that, with auto-run programs, hackers can spare themselves the effort while the program runs on a loop.
Your database is a stronghold of sensitive, private, and extremely confidential customer data, transaction details, and so much more. SQL injections are used to try and access this database using malicious code, injected into your website’s query section.
Phishing scams are way too common, even in this day and age. It is still so widespread because of how easy it is for hackers to convincingly fake another business’s email layout or website. Wrongly assuming that it is legitimate, many customers might click on a malicious link redirecting them elsewhere.
There are two ways that phishing scams work. Hackers might use close phishing techniques to mimic your website or email ID, thereby redirecting customers to their payment gateway. Another is spear phishing where they impersonate a business employee and get customers to either share personal information or engage in transactions with a completely different ID.
Spam calls and messages can proliferate your log and inbox when hackers get a hold of your business contact information. Embedded with links that redirect you to malicious pages, hackers might also use your comment/review box to share spam content. This can be irritating for loyal customers who trust your business website.
Cross-site scripting (XSS)
Cross-site scripting may be a lot more dangerous compared to other forms of attacks because it targets something more valuable than your website – your shoppers. By inserting malware or code into any of your web pages, it exposes your customers to malware, rendering your site insecure and jeopardizing your customers at the same time.
E-skimming requires a great deal of sophistication but some hackers are proficient enough to gain access to your payment page and steal credit card information and other payment details directly. If you’re concerned about a threat on this level of extremity, it would be smart to consult with a trusted ethical hacking agency to prove your website from end to end.
How to protect your online store from security threats:
SSL – Standardize your website’s security
Getting an SSL certificate for your online store is a key step towards thwarting a majority of hacker attacks that seek to intercept your website’s traffic. SSL certificates are a great pre-emptive security measure that prevents your site from being replicated by hackers to set up a phishing trap on unsuspecting customers or your business staff users. Not only do they help you authenticate your website as legitimate (so that it cannot be replicated), but they also enable an encryption protocol that secures all your user requests, including all personally identifiable information and transactional data.
Install Antivirus and Anti-fraud Software
A standardized anti-fraud software is great for screening and flagging down any transaction that triggers a response based on the algorithm. What triggers a potential fraud alert could be anything, like a different IP address or a different location, but it certainly helps you to confirm that the recipient is legitimate before you proceed any further. Norton, Mcafee, and Avast are some of the more standardized favorites in anti-virus software.
The good thing about installing anti-virus software is that you can trust that it will be up-to-date. You can’t take any risks with cybersecurity. Vulnerabilities and threats are always evolving, and your security measures must evolve accordingly. A lot of the new malware or viruses that could potentially be installed into your system are not easy to detect when you don’t have the latest anti-virus software version to combat it. You must keep updating any security software you have with the most recent versions.
Frequently back up website data
This is extremely important. Your online storefront is also a central storage space for tons of data, including product-related details such as inventory as well as customer information. You can make sure that a sudden wipeout or attack doesn’t threaten to erase all of that. All you need to do is regularly back up your website and business data into a trusted enterprise cloud service. This way, your data is moved to an independent, offsite location, meaning a quick malfunction won’t jeopardize your entire business or slow it down. If a site shuts down, you can still get it up and running in no time by booting all the real-time data you’ve stored on the server.
We’ve mentioned automated data backups into the cloud, but also ensure that every day before you close shop, you download a copy of your business data separately, just in case. Double backups can keep your business extra secure and set your mind at ease.
Let’s say your website is built and run on popular eCommerce platforms like Magento, you’d have to initiate a backup from the admin panel. Furthermore, you’d have to be cautious not to restore any of the data unless it is an emergency. Restoration reverts your data to the latest backup. This means that you could potentially lose some of your more recent media files, customer orders, and other data.
E-commerce hosts like Shopify offer a more flexible data backup option, with a more granular reach into individual files alongside the standard database-wise backup.
Use a trusted VPN
If you don’t already use a VPN for your online store, maybe it is about time you did. A virtual private network helps you to hide your IP address so that all the data and files you share over the internet are encrypted and effectively untraceable. In an era where working remotely is the norm, it is impossible to share confidential data without using some form of a VPN to keep the information you share protected from external attacks or interception.
Your connection is securely routed through virtual servers, which makes it difficult for hackers and cyber-attackers to trace your IP address. This level of encryption and security has become standard for even small-scale businesses, owing to the prevalence of data theft in our times.
Make your passwords guess-proof
Passwords should essentially be guess-proof, so do not use anything generic or identifiable. This is why it is way better to use a randomly generated password. It is one of the most basic things you need to do, whether you’re running a staff of 20 or 200.
Using a simple combination of alphabets and numerals isn’t going to cut it. These usually don’t stand a chance against brute force attacks. Make sure that all your account passwords are strong, complex, and strung up with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, characters, and numbers. Also, ensure that it isn’t straightforward to guess – in other words, keep any personal touches out of your password.
The best way to do this is to use an auto-password generator that churns out random complicated sequences which you can update regularly and share with your team through a protected communication portal.
Using a password manager saves you hours and lets you auto-handle all your account passwords in one central dashboard. Do make sure that you don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. If potential attackers were to obtain access to any one of them, it would easily mean a compounded security risk.
A good rule of thumb is to not include sensitive and personal details like your contact number, email, DOB, etc. in your password.
One thing that account holders should take note of is changing the default name of their system into something more original. The default username gets the hacker halfway in, that’s why.
Extend security measures to personal devices
We all access business information on our devices, from home desktops to mobile phones. It is inevitable and we simply cannot afford not to anymore. With the way changes happen rapidly, you need to be on call and alert almost every minute just in case an emergency comes up.
With that being said, it is easy for potential data pirates to trace your personal contact information and attempt to gain access. If your device is linked to any of your business accounts, you must ensure that you have adequate and active anti-virus software installed, along with firewall safety measures to screen and deflect most of the attacks.
Flag down unknown callers and correspondence
Make sure that you and your staff are well aware of phishing and social engineering traps. Do not click on any links from unknown senders without verifying their identity, and ascertaining that the email ID or phone number they’ve contacted you through legitimately belongs to them. Personal details are just as valuable as your password.
Guard those details and ensure the recipient is always someone you trust, and the account or number you’re sharing those details to is an officially verified handle. It is better to double-check with the recipient instead of going by appearances. Most phishing scams succeed by “appearances”, which can be deceiving. Even official-looking mail can be forged.
General guidelines for spotting spam
Here are some of the common red flags that potential attackers may inadvertently let slip, tipping you off that they are not legitimate:
- Glaring grammatical errors should instantly trigger warning bells in your head. Misspelling words that are obvious and unorthodox sentences that seem odd almost always accompany phishing emails where the sender is not a native speaker of the language. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that some hackers are devious enough to send well-written mail.
- The domain name is the first place to check. Some phishing domains often resemble the legitimate site so well, yet are undeniably off by a letter or two. Remember, no two domain names are the same. The best thing to do is find out what the official domain name you’re looking for is, and ensure that the website is a match. If not, and even if it is off by a single omission, that should immediately signal a red flag.
- It is also common for most suspicious hackers to request money transfers, click on a link, authorize transactions, etc. There are, however, others, who try luring the bait in with a few, seemingly innocent emails to establish a connection and seem trustworthy.
Multi-factor to authenticate your accounts
Two-factor authentication is standard. In addition to the basic username and password, it also allows you to authorize your account login through email and SMS code. You can also go a step further with multi-factored authentication just to be on the safe side.
Multi-factor authentication is ideal when it comes to securing any business account, especially for your online store. Besides the password, which can often be hacked through brute-force attacks, users will be notified any time there is a login and will undergo multiple other authenticating factors to make sure that they are authorized. It drastically reduces the likelihood of your accounts being hacked that easily.
Sort relevant and irrelevant data
Not all data is relevant to every member of your organization. It is better to keep data, especially customer data, segmented and separated from the rest, visible only to those who have authorized access.
Dumping all your data in one central location within your system makes it easy for potential attackers to extract precious information with low effort. Focus on keeping backups and letting your website run on information that is relevant for day-to-day operation. If the need arises, you can quickly extract the information you need from the cloud or a backup copy.
Updates and upgrades are crucial
Potential attackers can identify whether your website is running on dated software. It is a wise move to always update and upgrade your core website and tools to the latest software releases, and utilize the most recent available security patches.
When you’re running something as complex as an online business website, vulnerabilities are bound to emerge. Make sure you stay a step ahead in fixing bugs and running a regular technician diagnosis with a trusted third-party or in-house team to discover any new vulnerabilities in software that you need to patch up.
Security is of paramount importance to your business, and software updates go a long way in ensuring that your website stays impenetrably safe.
Get Secure – Switch from HTTP to HTTPS
Instead of going with a regular HTTP site, switch to HTTPS hosting instead, which is more secure, and signals that your website can be trusted. It is also less prone to be penalized by Google.
Basic websites that use HTTP protocol are almost obsolete at this point, triggering a security warning to users every time they attempt to access the website on their browser. So it goes without saying that if you’re running an HTTP site for your online store, it is about time you converted it to HTTPS.
On the plus side, HTTPS websites also signal trust to your customers and automatically obtains a higher Google search ranking, just by being secure. Make sure you receive an SSL certificate before this though, since it is a pre-requisite.
Periodically audit all third-party plugins
Third-party integrations are often a conduit for viruses to enter your system. Monitor the extensions that your business uses, and make sure that they measure up to the trust standards that they promise.
Remove any irrelevant or outdated plugins so that you don’t have to keep track of an exhausting number of them. The general principle is to view your customer data as privileged information and to limit the number of people who have access to it down to the bare minimum, and that too, in relevant segments. The master view of your online store data should be reserved for you and those you trust alone.
Amp up caution during holiday seasons
The holiday seasons are usually the busiest time of the year. It is also right around this time that most cyber criminals choose to target online sellers, especially because the traffic is high and online channels are more exposed. This is why it is worth doing a thorough seasonal audit of your system’s security. Make sure that you double-check your account permissions, remove inactive accounts, and review who has access to different types of data.
Pre-empt the chargeback scam
Statistics indicate that the more traffic and shoppers you have on average, the more attempted fraud you can expect on your online store. This shouldn’t be a cause for worry, but caution. An example is the chargeback scam where retailers lose both money and product.
Basically what happens is this: an attacker steals a credit card and makes a purchase from the retailer. Once the credit card is reported as stolen or subject to fraudulent transactions, the person has already received the product. Retailers often have to refund the original customers and lose out on the product as well.
The point we’re making here is that cybersecurity isn’t a unilateral effort, but a combined one- both the customer and the online seller have a role to play. As far as the customer’s side is concerned, the best you can do is spread awareness and ensure that your platform is scam-proof, so that potential attackers cannot lift personal information off of it.
The best way to prevent a chargeback scam is to arrange for screening measures that alert your business every time the customer purchases a device that looks suspicious. It may not be effective 100% of the time, but it would be still worth singling out the anomalies and staving off a lot of fraud orders before they happen. A confirmation protocol would ensue if you detect anything suspicious. Verify that it is indeed the customer who placed the order and proceed. If not, you can alert them in real-time.
Set customer support protocols in place
Ensure you have a clear and well-defined customer identification and authentication procedure in place. This is a two-step process. First of all, you need to obtain personally identifiable information regarding your customers that will help you verify when they make a purchase. Authentication is basically about using this information to confirm that it isn’t a fraudster who’s misappropriated the customer’s ID.
Whether it’s calling the person directly to ask personal security questions, or directing them through a multi-factor authenticator, there are plenty of ways you can double-check and confirm that the identity of your customer and the person who placed the order match.
Say no to default account set-ups
Using default passwords and usernames is a strict no. It doesn’t matter how convenient they are. They can be a huge hassle later on because of how exposed your website becomes to hackers. Figuring out your default username and password is a typical guessing game. On the other hand, a strong, software-generated password is almost impossible to obtain, even through brute-force attacks.
Here’s something that could potentially save you a great deal of time: Save all your registered user’s default IP addresses so that you’ll be alerted every time your website encounters an unknown IP. It is better to have partial visibility than to be fully blind about who logs into your website and when.
Quick tip for payment gateway security
Here’s an important tip to note: Do not save your customer’s transaction information such as bank account and passwords on your website’s database. If a hacker was to breach your site, you’d be risking your reputation as well as your customer’s money. Even if you end up catching them before they’re able to do any damage, the penalties alone can be devastatingly expensive. So it isn’t worth the risk.
This is why a lot of brands resort to trusted third-party payment providers, at least up until the point they can afford to provide an end-to-end secure payment gateway service of their own.
Pre-empt DDoS attacks with CDN
Remember the DDoS attacks we mentioned? A CDN (Content Delivery Network) helps you keep your site secure from DDoS attacks. What it does is offer a cached webpage from a separate file server when there’s an incoming request. The CDN servers that are nearest to the requesting device will respond in real-time. This way, your website’s origin server doesn’t have to handle any suspiciously high traffic. In a nutshell, it keeps your website’s server intact.
The algorithm of a CDN also identifies which traffic seems organic and which ones look like they’re malicious. Hackers will have a hard time forcing your site to crash by automating an unusual number of requests.
Ecommerce platforms? Go by reputation, not convenience.
If you’re opting to host your website on standard ecommerce platforms, go with trusted ones like Magento, Drupal, WooCommerce, or Shopify. Some of these are known for their pro-secure features which is why it’s safer to opt for a well-known brand if that’s the route you want to go.
User data – how to prevent and deal with slip-ups
- When it comes to inadvertently sharing customers’ privileged information, first make sure that you do not allow all your staff full access to the database. Segment this information based on priority and relevance.
- Secondly, make your policies and protocol clear when it comes to sharing user information.
- Thirdly, keep track of all official calls and email conversations coming in and out of your organization. If there’s a potential leak or slip-up, you should be able to find out instantly.
- Finally, if an employee is leaving the company, ensure they hand over all your business-related files and revoke all access that they have to company data.
Keeping your customers aware – a job half done
- Encourage customers to use stronger passwords and give them precautionary guidelines on how to securely interact with your official team. Freely give them access to the correct contact information in case they need to get in touch with you.
- Make it mandatory for customers to use two-factor authentication, complex passwords, and usernames when they login to their accounts. This might seem burdensome at first but will save you all the hassle later on. Educate them on why it is important to keep their account and data secure, to protect their privacy and money.
- It may deter some customers when they are confronted with too many security hoops initially. In such an event, it is better to keep these protocols and steps saved for purchasing customers, either before or after they check out. After all, you needn’t spend too much time securing the account of shoppers who are merely there to browse. Security concerns generally arise when there are transactions involved.
- Enabling your customers to sign in via their Google or Facebook ID is yet another option worth considering. This will save them the hassle of creating a separate account and take away some of the liability from your shoulders.
Customers will only engage in a transaction with websites and brands that they trust. A simple instance of lax security can be a costly mistake that affects both your reputation and prospects. It is better to stay safe than sorry when it comes to ecommerce security. The strategies we mentioned in this blog are some of the most common and effective ways in which most online retailers protect their stores from cyber attacks.
We hope you found this helpful. You can bookmark this page for more useful tips and information on running an online store, from scratch.
3 thoughts on “Cybersecurity: Tips and strategies for your online store”
I’m so glad I stumbled across this blog – it’s full of useful information and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it often.
I’m so impressed by the quality of the content on this blog – it’s really well researched and thought out.
It’s refreshing to find a blog that focuses on the brighter side of life.