How Cybercriminals Are Shopping for Personal Data This Black Friday

While the majority of us look forward to Black Friday and Cyber Monday for the best deals, there’s another group that’s also eagerly anticipating these dates – cybercriminals. As the number of online shoppers increases, so do the opportunities for cybercriminals to steal personal and financial information. In this article, we will take a closer look at how these cybercriminals operate, and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.

With the advent of technology, more and more consumers are shifting towards online shopping. The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced a lot of people to favor this method of purchasing due to health and safety concerns. However, this shift has also opened up a new avenue for cybercriminals who are now focusing their efforts on gathering personal information from these online transactions. In this part of the article, we delve into how these criminals take advantage of Black Friday online sales to access and steal personal data.

The Black Friday Modus

The first step in understanding how to protect ourselves is to understand how cybercriminals operate. Black Friday and Cyber Monday provide the perfect opportunity for these criminals as the surge in online traffic can make their malicious activities less noticeable. They exploit the sense of urgency and excitement around these sales, using various tactics to deceive shoppers and gain access to their personal information.

One of the most common methods used by cybercriminals is phishing. It is a form of fraud where cybercriminals impersonate a legitimate organization in an attempt to steal sensitive data. During the Black Friday sale period, these criminals will send out emails or texts that appear to be from renowned retailers offering fantastic deals. However, these emails and texts are embedded with malicious links that when clicked, lead the shopper to a fake website designed to steal their personal and financial information. The shopper, lured by the enticing deal, unsuspectingly enters their details, giving the cybercriminals exactly what they want.

Use of Malware and Ransomware

Another common tactic used by cybercriminals is the use of malware and ransomware. Malware is a type of software that is designed to cause damage to a computer, server, or computer network, while Ransomware is a type of malware that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. During Black Friday, cybercriminals increase the distribution of such malicious software. Unsuspecting shoppers may download these onto their devices when they click on links or open attachments in emails offering Black Friday deals.

Once the malware or ransomware is downloaded onto the device, the cybercriminals can steal personal information, lock the device, or even use it to conduct other illegal activities. This type of attack is particularly dangerous as it not only compromises personal and financial information, but can also leave the victim with a non-functional device, adding insult to injury. The aftermath of such an attack could be extensive and costly, especially if valuable data is lost or if the ransom is paid to regain access to the device.

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Card Skimming and E-skimming

Card skimming involves the illegal copying of information from the magnetic stripe of a credit or debit card. It is a serious problem in the brick-and-mortar retail sector, however, a new form of this crime has emerged and is becoming a major threat to online shoppers – E-skimming. E-skimming is a method used by cybercriminals to steal credit card information from online shoppers in real-time.

During the Black Friday period, the criminals may compromise a retailer’s website, typically by injecting malicious code into the site’s checkout process. When the shopper enters their credit card information, the criminals capture it. The information is then either used directly to make fraudulent purchases or sold on the dark web. This method is particularly challenging for retailers to combat as it can be difficult to detect, the e-skimming code may lay dormant until the checkout process is initiated, making it even harder to identify.

Protecting Yourself During Black Friday Sales

Now that we understand the methods used by cybercriminals, let’s explore how to protect our personal and financial information during this high-risk period. Cybersecurity should be everyone’s top priority and there are several measures you can take to ensure you don’t fall victim to these cyber-attacks.

Firstly, be skeptical of emails, texts, or advertisements offering too-good-to-be-true deals. Always double-check the source before clicking any links. It’s safer to directly navigate to the retailer’s website via your browser rather than clicking the link in an email or ad. If you receive an email from a retailer, cross-verify it by visiting their official website or contacting them directly. Avoid clicking on links from unknown or suspicious sources.

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Secondly, ensure your devices are equipped with up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software. These tools can detect and block malicious activities, providing a layer of security. Regularly update your software and operating system to patch any vulnerabilities that cybercriminals might exploit. When shopping online, make sure the website’s URL begins with ‘https’, indicating it is secure and encrypted. Furthermore, regularly monitor your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions.

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Finally, consider using a credit card instead of a debit card for online purchases. Credit cards often have better fraud protection and it’s easier to dispute fraudulent charges. Be mindful of where and how you’re sharing your personal information. Avoid making transactions over public WiFi as these networks can be easily compromised. Instead, use your mobile data or a trustworthy, private WiFi network.

Role of Retailers in Protecting Customers

While consumers can take steps to protect themselves, retailers also play a crucial role in ensuring the security of their customers’ data. They need to be proactive in implementing robust security measures and constantly monitoring for any suspicious activities. Regular audits and penetration testing can help identify potential vulnerabilities and fix them before they can be exploited.

Businesses should educate their employees on cybersecurity best practices and how to identify phishing attempts. Regular training can help prevent accidental breaches as well as deliberate insider threats. Employing secure payment systems and encryption are other steps retailers can take to safeguard customer data.

Multi-factor authentication can add an additional layer of security, making it harder for cybercriminals to gain access. Retailers should also have a response plan in place in case of a data breach, to minimize damage and swiftly communicate to affected customers.

Final Thoughts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday present lucrative opportunities for cybercriminals intent on stealing personal and financial information. However, understanding their tactics and taking proactive measures can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these attacks. From phishing and malware to E-skimming, the threats are diverse and evolving, but with caution and cybersecurity measures in place, both consumers and retailers can enjoy the benefits of these sales events safely.

Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be vigilant, keep your software updated, and prioritize safe shopping practices. Retailers, on the other hand, need to constantly monitor and update their security systems, educate their employees, and most importantly, ensure transparency with their customers. Together, we can make online shopping safer, not just during Black Friday, but throughout the year.

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