'Find trouble before it finds you': How businesses can avoid being hijacked by online fraudsters

You don’t have to go too far back in time to understand why cybersecurity is so important.

By Jessvin Thomas SkOUT Secure Intelligence

CYBERSECURITY HAS BECOME a major topic of discussion across virtually every social strata.

From business to commerce to the living room, it seems as though everyone is thinking about online privacy, data security and identity protection.

Businesses must become more aware of cyber threats and take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of their customers and their own information.

We don’t have to go too far back in time to see why this is critically important. In 2018 alone, there were enough incidents of direct consumer online shopping data breaches and consumer manipulation to ensure that the issue remains at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Last month’s festive period was a busy one for legitimate e-commerce businesses – but an unsavoury group was also focusing its efforts online in the hope of making money.

Like the most effective forms of fraud, the approach is often simple:

The method

Cybercriminals hijack a premium website. Once the domain name is hijacked, the fraudsters take full power of the control panel and redirect traffic to their own web server, which then allows them to funnel advertising revenue from the hijacked website to their accounts.

Customers and shoppers that visit these websites during these illicit takeovers wouldn’t be aware they were happening. Unfortunately, the business owners and advertisers will have also realised too late that cybercriminals had funnelled away legitimate advertising revenue.

It’s not the only manner in which cybercriminals target legitimate online businesses – domain hijacking also opens the door to phishing.

Last year, PayPal was the subject of an attempted phishing attack. This involved cybercriminals setting up a bogus Twitter account, advertising a ‘sweepstakes’ and asking PayPal customers to enter their authentication information to enter the draw.

It failed to trick many users because it contained small flaws such as typos – PayPal was misspelt as “PayPall”.

Nonetheless, the fake website resembled the legitimate one and was convincing enough for some to fall prey to the scheme.

Other high-profile cyberattacks include the Marriott-Starwood Resorts breach and an attack on Transdev, which operates the Luas.

Against this highly lucrative backdrop for cybercriminals what can businesses do to protect themselves?

Be proactive

You need to find trouble before trouble finds you. This requires any organisation or business that trades online to be vigilant and to take a proactive approach.

At a minimum, business owners need to keep IT systems up to date with patches and fixes provided directly from vendors. They should also carry out regular backups and ensure that they are also regularly testing the restoration of backed-up data.

It’s also important to set up and use two-factor or multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Most major vendors – including Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook – all provide this service and in many cases provide it free of charge to customers.

As it is becoming increasingly prevalent in online transactions, your customers would also be aware of this type of authentication and may already be demanding it, so implementation of these safeguards not only leads to better security, but also to better customer satisfaction.

In many forms of cybercrime, fraudsters target an organisation’s employees – untrained or under-trained employees quickly become the weakest link in your security system. To mitigate this risk, it is vital that you train all employees in basic cybersecurity.

Employees who directly interact with customer and financial data – including those staff responsible for your IT and online systems and anyone in a customer-facing role – should be trained more rigorously and regularly.

Extra security measures

Companies and business owners should consider the following extra security elements to protect themselves online:

Use real-time security monitoring of the organisation’s network environment to identify internal and external threats and any abnormal or anomalous behaviour of systems or people.

For highly prized information like passwords and account numbers, it is important to ‘hash and salt’ the data. This technique adds an extra layer of security and means that even if the data is stolen, it remains unusable by those outside the organisation.

Implement and follow a recognised or standardised security methodology to map out your organisation’s security policy, identify existing security gaps and develop roadmaps for future spending.

It’s possible to put these elements in place in a cost-effective manner to mitigate the risk of cyber-attacks and online fraud. However, as attacks evolve and proliferate, businesses large and small must continue to consider new safeguards and measures to protect themselves and their customers.

In other words, simply creating and following a cybersecurity plan is not enough. The organisation must continuously adapt to new threats by updating and modifying the plan as needed through regular review.

This is not to say that it’s all bad news. While there is no doubt that protecting oneself against such attacks is now part and parcel of a modern business, the availability of the necessary monitoring tools means that secure intelligence is accessible to all.

This means that your company can take advantage of tools and systems that may have been beyond fiscal or technical reach in the past; removing one more barrier between you and a secure future for both you and your customers.

Jessvin Thomas is president of SkOUT Secure Intelligence.

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