Wed May 11 2022
4 Security Threats That Could Affect Your E-Commerce Store
Crime tends to go where the money is, and the money is certainly in e-commerce these days, which is why it should come as no surprise to learn that the e-commerce industry deals with around 206,000 cyber attacks every month. Sure, there are so many sellers out there that the chance of one in particular being attacked is somewhat low - but you keep rolling the dice, the odds will eventually turn against you.
And when that happens, the consequences might well be dire. Falling victim to a cyber attack can shake your confidence, leave you with extensive repair work to do, lose you valuable data, and leave you with a customer base no longer willing to place any trust in you. In short, it can spell the beginning of the end of your brand.
Unfortunately, today’s sellers (and website owners in general) tend to vacillate between two stances on cybersecurity. Most often, they view it as unnecessary, trusting in security through obscurity (who would attack my little store?) or simply being unshakeably confident that disaster won’t strike them. Disasters happen to other people, after all. But when things go wrong, they go all-in on security measures, assuming that any small intrusion is a sign that the entirety of the world’s hacking community is attacking.
Neither stance is appropriate. There’s no need to panic about cybersecurity. Instead, you should take sober and sensible steps to guard against the most common threats, laying the groundwork so any attacks that come along will be relatively easy to deal with. This shouldn’t even be challenging. Despite how hacking is portrayed in the media, most “hackers” don’t know how to hack even the most rudimentary of security protocols. They rely on a core set of tricks: you can read about some of them here.
To help you protect your e-commerce business, this article will cover four of the most common cybersecurity threats, explaining what they are and how you can guard against them. Let’s get started.
Spam emails might seem harmless, but they can be hugely dangerous. And no, we’re not talking about emails ostensibly from Nigerian royalty. Many spam emails are far from comical in appearance, and those from people masquerading as representatives of important service providers (your website host, for instance, or your bank) can cause immense damage.
These are known as phishing emails because they’re meant to catch information that can be used to make money. One such email may appear indistinguishable from the real deal before asking you for sensitive information of some kind, with the sender’s goal being to penetrate your store’s security in the simplest way possible: by learning your password.
Other phishers may take the approach of leading you to fake websites designed to look like login pages in the hope that you’ll enter your data unsuspectingly. And then there’s the option of attempting to spread malware to your device in an effort to force your cooperation (likely complete with a payment) through threatening your data.
The best way to defend against these attacks is by reading every email your business receives extremely carefully. It’s also worth noting that most companies will never ask for sensitive information via email, so if you’re unsure about a message, check the address it came from, and use a search engine to check it against the real contact details.
DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks have devastated some of the world’s most established and respected businesses. Even Google itself isn’t immune to these assaults. In a DDoS attack, your site is suddenly flooded with traffic. The requests to access your store overload your server (or servers) until legitimate visitors start to notice delays or pages returning error messages. Depending on your hosting terms, you can even run out of resources, leading to issues persisting once the attack stops.
DDoS attacks are usually performed using ‘botnets’, which are huge networks of ‘zombie computers’ coopted by hackers and directed towards your website. And if they’re timed to coincide with important events (high-effort marketing campaign releases, for instance, or attention-grabbing retail spectacles such as Black Friday), they can cause immense damage. So how can you defend yourself? Here are some basic tips:
- Maintain a strong update schedule - If you’re relying on a Shopify-style quick-start CMS, you won’t need to worry too much about this, but it’s reasonably common for ambitious sellers to self-host open-source solutions for extra customizability. If you’re in that position, be sure to update your core services and associated plugins on a regular basis, as those updates will surely include key security patches.
- Invest in high-quality hosting - Many hosting providers offer DDoS protection at a system level. Some even provide access to additional services such as CDNs: Cloudways, for instance, recently (early 2022) implemented a free Cloudflare integration, making it relatively simple for users to stay protected. It’s worth following service update schedules to see what you can expect from future improvements.
- Keep up with industry trends - Any given day can bring attention to new attack vectors, cybersecurity-relevant tweaks to the legal system, or freshly-launched security services. Making a commitment to following security blogs and paying attention to a curated social media feed will make you better able to draw upon potent technologies and make informed decisions about the future of your store.
The terminology isn’t bandied around with the regularity of phishing, but SQL injections are actually fairly common and highly threatening. SQL is a programming language regularly used for the databases that underpin websites. If a hacker found a weakness in the SQL beneath your store, they could exploit it to insert (or inject) commands allowing them to control it, giving them the power to modify it, hold it hostage, or simply shut it down.
And while this method of attack is relatively old at this point, there’s a reasonable chance that your site is vulnerable to some extent. It’s a consequence of the nature of SQL, a language designed to facilitate the sharing of information. Indeed, the first version was released back in 1974 when the internet was many years away.
To keep attackers at bay, you need to follow the aforementioned suggestion of keeping your store software updated. You should also be careful with passwords and avoid using cheap web developers. It’s better to pay extra for someone with notable expertise, as they’ll be far more likely to leave your store in a secure state.
Brute force attacks
It made sense to leave these threats until the end because they’re the least concerning (yet the most enduring). A brute force attack is essentially a relentless onslaught of informed guesswork: instead of trying to find the password through social engineering or exploiting a vulnerability, the hacker deploys software to attempt millions of character combinations (including all the most commonly-used passwords) in an attempt to guess the admin login.
This can obviously take a long time to work, but it can work, and that makes it a threat. But if you take some simple steps, you won’t realistically need to worry about falling victim to a brute force attack. There are two key things you need to do:
- Choose complex passwords - Note that this doesn’t require you to use incomprehensible strings of characters, as something like “catering!joyful!avalanche” is a strong password despite being easy to remember. Simply be careful to avoid common word/number combinations, and always aim for at least eight characters.
- Implement multi-factor authentication - The best way to skirt brute force attacks is to task anyone trying to gain access with using another form of authentication in addition to the password. That way, even if someone manages to guess your password, they still won’t be able to gain access.
When it comes to cybersecurity threats, prevention is the best cure, so keep yourself protected by learning more about the attack types covered here. Whether you’re a small business owner just getting started in the world of e-commerce or a seasoned entrepreneur with an established customer base, security is essential. Prioritize it.