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Securing Customer Trust: Penetration Testing for E-commerce Platforms

Sanjiv Cherian

Sanjiv Cherian, Cyber Security Director
Oct 23, 2023

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Every Click Counts: Ensuring Customer Trust in E-commerce

The holiday shopping season is in full swing. Across countless online stores, customers filled virtual carts on Cyber Monday with fervour. Online retail continues skyrocketing, projected to reach $1 trillion this year in the US alone per eMarketer.

But alongside this growth lurks a latent threat to customer trust. One wrong click erodes loyalty built over the years. For retailers relying on digital channels, security is paramount.
Imagine the fallout if hackers compromised customer payment data or identities because of undetected website flaws. Or inject malicious code to steal credit cards. Or they have disrupted sales with DDoS attacks. Scenarios like these unfold all too often at significant brands.

"In 2019, British Airways faced a $26 million fine after attackers skimmed the personal and payment details of hundreds of thousands of customers through injected code attacking the website and mobile app."

"Panera Bread leaked millions of customer records in 2018 when website security lapses exposed names, emails, birthdays and credit card digits."
"Security researchers in 2021 quickly hacked the e-commerce sites of dozens of retailers to demonstrate how common weaknesses like injection flaws and misconfigurations enable data theft, funds, and identities."

For victims, credit card fraud, identity theft, and account takeovers cause countless headaches. For retailers, the damage is measured in breach costs, legal liabilities, cancelled performances, and shattered trust. Yet risks quickly go overlooked.

What precautions separate secure digital businesses from future cautionary tales? For Taylor, an executive overseeing e-commerce at a national retail chain, the threats strike close to home:
"We invest so much to attract customers and foster loyalty. But it just takes one breach, and all that vanishes overnight. I worry about the flaws lurking on our site, mobile apps, or servers that could be the next hacker target. We need to identify and address those before it's too late.

Menacing Threats Targeting Online Retailers

E-commerce businesses face no shortage of cyber adversaries seeking to exploit vulnerabilities for financial gain or to cause disruption. Retailers must understand the variety of threats jeopardising digital operations to implement countermeasures.

Financially Motivated Hackers:

Well-organized cybercrime groups hunt for vulnerabilities enabling theft of financial and personal data like payment card details that fetch high prices on dark web marketplaces. Even minor data breaches reap big rewards. For any flaw-providing entry, patient hackers will probe websites, apps, APIs, and servers.

Denial-of-Service Attacks:

DDoS attacks aimed at overwhelming sites with junk traffic remain a common threat, often timed around peak sales days. The goal is to take websites offline until ransom demands are met. Lost revenue from outages can become very costly over time.

State-Sponsored Groups:

Government-backed advanced persistent threat (APT) groups focus on infiltrating high-value businesses in search of intellectual property theft opportunities or strategically disrupting operations during conflict. Retailers possess financial data, customer information and proprietary data coveted by APTs.

Insider Threats:

Employees, contractors, or third-party vendors with privileged access credentials can abuse them for data theft, financial fraud or sabotage. Rogue insiders familiar with internal systems are hard to detect and highly dangerous.

Hacktivists & Cybercriminals: 

Politically motivated hacktivist groups like Anonymous relish embarrassing high-profile businesses through data leaks or defacements. Criminal hackers target user accounts for gift card fraud.

Supply Chain Attacks:

By penetrating third-party vendor systems, adversaries can traverse trusted connections into retailer environments. Third parties often have deep network access but weaker security.

Spear Phishing:

Highly targeted phishing emails containing malicious links or attachments explicitly tailored to individual users represent one of the top threats to e-commerce businesses. All it takes is a single click by one employee for adversaries to gain initial access and pivot deeper into systems.

These threats clarify the importance of layered cyber protections and regular penetration testing simulating real-world attacks. Retailers must validate security against a spectrum of adversaries looking to damage operations and erode shopper trust.

Recent E-commerce Cyber Incidents Highlight Risks

"The 2021 breach of the online thrift store Poshmark exposed the data of over 7 million users due to unpatched systems. (Bitdefender)."
"Jewellery retailer Alex and Ani suffered a 2020 intrusion accessing internal systems and customer data. (BleepingComputer)."
"The 2020 breach of UK retailer Missguided resulted in customer account takeovers and payment card fraud. (ITGovernance)."
"Credential stuffing attacks in 2021 targeted dozens of retailers, including Office Depot, LastPass, and Nutribullet. (SecurityWeek)."
"Tax software company Wolters Kluwer exposed sensitive customer financial records of 100+ top retailers due to a misconfigured AWS bucket. (TechCrunch)."
"2020 DDoS extortion attacks cost e-commerce site Cash Converters £10,000 in ransom payments. (IT Governance)."

Proactive Cyber Protection for Online Retailers

Validating website and e-commerce platform security requires taking a hacker's perspective to identify flaws before criminals do. Known as penetration testing, ethical hackers probe defences exactly like real attackers but in a controlled and authorised way.

Key techniques include:
  • Simulating Attacks to Harden Defenses To uncover security flaws malicious hackers could exploit, ethical penetration testers affect real-world attacks against e-commerce businesses in a controlled way:
  • Attempting to crack or steal user accounts through credential stuffing, brute force attacks, and exploiting vulnerabilities. Successful access demonstrates account takeover risks.
  • Scanning website infrastructure like servers, databases, and network devices for unpatched vulnerabilities and misconfigurations hackers could leverage to get in and escalate access. Finding outdated software is a typical test result.
  • Checking payment platforms and workflows for weaknesses that could allow theft of financial information like credit cards or manipulate transactions. Verifying PCI compliance is a crucial goal.
  • Assessing mobile apps for flaws like insecure data storage or transmission, weak authentication, and lacks binary protections that could lead to data exposures. Mobile often needs to be tested more.
  • Evaluating the security of third-party e-commerce vendors and partners. Testers act as attackers who have penetrated a partner to pivot into target environments through trusted connections. Real criminals exploit this vector.
  • Hunting for exploitable website vulnerabilities like injection flaws, cross-site scripting, inappropriate access controls or other bugs that skilled hackers leverage for theft or disruption. The website is a top target.
  • Verifying compliance with PCI-DSS requirements related to penetration testing, secure coding, and vulnerability management. Failing compliance can lead to fines.

The insights derived from testing in this way enable retailers to understand actual risks and make data-driven security improvements before real attackers succeed in stealing data or disrupting operations. Ethical hacking helps e-commerce businesses identify issues that might otherwise go undetected.
Skilled testers apply proven methodologies tailored to e-commerce risks. Leaders gain data to strengthen defences and prevent incidents undermining customer trust strategically.

Why Your Customers Can't Shop Safely

Like most e-commerce businesses, you invest heavily in customer acquisition through targeted ads, email nurturing campaigns and social media promotions. Sales spike around holidays. Your site traffic and order volume is growing.

But have you completed a single cybersecurity assessment? Are your websites hosted on ageing servers with outdated software? Do engineers need more secure coding training? Does customer data flow freely to vendors without controls? Have you deployed web application firewalls or DDoS protection?

If you answered no, your situation parallels fictional seller Johnny's Ecommerce before disaster struck. Right before a massive sales season, hackers exploited an injection flaw, stealing thousands of your customer credit cards. Your site suffered extended outages from DDoS attacks. Loyal customers fled to more security-focused competitors as your reputation crumbled.
Neglecting cyber precautions leaves the doors wide open for breaches eroding consumer trust. Don't let this hypothetical become your reality.

Let Johnny's tale teach about embracing proactive protections and testing for online retailers. Leverage penetration testing to validate controls and meet PCI compliance. Harden infrastructure by upgrading outdated software. Implement training to avoid introducing vulnerabilities. Prepare incident response plans for scenarios like data theft. The threats are real, but so are the solutions. Take action before it's too late.

Securing Customer Loyalty

Through continuous cyber risk assessments, retailers can identify and resolve vulnerabilities before costly breaches materialise:
Here are some additional details expanding on the recommendations for securing customer loyalty and trust through cybersecurity best practices:

  • Implement quarterly penetration testing -Scheduling regular authorised tests of e-commerce environments provides ongoing validation of security controls. Routinely exercise defences against real attack techniques.
  • Harden websites and servers - Close vulnerabilities by promptly patching and upgrading sites, application servers, databases and operating systems. Reduce exploitable attack surfaces by turning off unnecessary features and services.
  • Segment access with least privilege - Restrict data access to only what is required for each role. Never grant complete visibility into sensitive customer information. Employ encryption and tokenise data.
  • Train developers on secure coding - Educate software engineers on OWASP Top 10 risks and mandating practices like input validation, threat modelling, and appropriate encryption. Avoid introducing fundamental flaws.
  • Deploy web application firewalls - Install WAFs to monitor and filter inbound website traffic for injection attacks, cross-site scripting attempts, bots, and other threats. Maintain virtual patching to block known attack signatures.
  • Implement DDoS mitigation - Protect online properties against debilitating denial-of-service attacks using on-premise and cloud-based DDoS protection platforms.
  • Maintain contingency plans - Develop and test cyber incident response plans detailing steps for scenarios like website outages, data theft, account takeover waves, and customer notification.
  • Invest in cyber insurance - Explore tailored policies covering e-commerce cyber risks, including business interruption, network failures, cyber extortion, and privacy liability costs.
  • Foster security culture - Ensure cybersecurity receives executive mindshare. Promote secure practices among teams involved with online systems—developers, ops, and customer support.

Vigilance across people, processes, and technology is essential for securing e-commerce from the spectrum of threats targeting retailers and shopper data.

What E-commerce brand should add to the cart next to guarantee the safety of their operations?

For your business launching recurring penetration tests, deploying web application firewalls, establishing developer training programs, and upgrading outdated operating systems. By partnering with Micorminder Cybersecurity, You could identify and resolve e-commerce platform risks before they become headline-grabbing breaches.

In Forrester's words, "Security and risk leaders responsible for e-commerce sites should adopt continuous testing and monitoring of systems to protect revenue streams and customer trust." Wise digital retailers recognise that staying ahead of threats is essential as online commerce explodes.

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