Just like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Black Friday and the subsequent Cyber Monday have firmly established themselves in the US calendar. With online retailers having worldwide reach we are also seeing Black Friday and Cyber Monday being adopted by retailers around the globe. With huge savings to be made and shoppers swept up in the frenzy of the holiday season it is also a prime time for cybercrime.
Recent news about ModPOS malware, the most complex point of sale malware to date, will have many retailers and consumers concerned. The attackers behind ModPOS have been operating since 2013 and have stolen millions of debit and credit card details from large retail companies POS systems. With 70% of consumers concerned about fraud and the privacy of their transaction data, consumer confidence is at an all-time low.
Just as the retailers ramp up for the holiday season, so too are the cyber criminals with several other new POS malware strains including Cherry Picker and Abaddon being exposed in the past few weeks. Traditionally point of sale systems have been a soft target for attackers often running unpatched operating systems with full admin rights to handle legacy retail software. They are also well connected to other systems accessing the internet to process payments and linking with backend data bases and even HVAC systems. This makes them a petri dish for malware to infect and spread undetected.
The other threat is the noise, not just from the crowds in store but the amount of transactions and traffic being processed. Take for example financial fraud. In FBI investigations they often find that denial of service attacks are used to cover up fraud. This works because security teams are busy firefighting the attack and don’t notice the money being taken out the back door. The same is true on Black Friday, it effectively simulates a denial of service attack and provides great cover for attackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities in sites and services as network and security teams battle with increased traffic volumes. Fraudulent card transactions are more likely to succeed as banks and card processors are expecting sudden increased spending.
The retail environment is driven by money and as such has little to no tolerance for downtime, especially during peak times such as Black Friday. If a reactive security solution such as AV detects a threat during Black Friday, a retailer might be faced with a decision between definitely losing millions in revenue or possibly leaking some customers card details.
In the worst cases, security may be removed or disabled if it gets in the way of taking payments. This is why it is important to have proactive measures in place and an understanding of security from the board level down because these decisions need to happen fast.
Hopefully retailers have learnt the lessons of the past few years of data breaches and begun to shift to a more proactive security model. They should have learnt that compliance with industry regulations does not equate to security and that AV isn’t the best defense in 2015. This holiday season, we wish for security in retail and good deals for all, so grab yourself a bargain and not a data breach on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
James Maude, Lead Cyber Security Researcher
James Maude is the Lead Cyber Security Researcher at BeyondTrust’s Manchester, U.K., office. James has broad experience in security research, conducting in-depth analysis of malware and cyber threats to identify attack vectors and trends in the evolving security landscape. His background in forensic computing and active involvement in the security research community makes him an expert voice on cybersecurity. He regularly presents at international events and hosts webinars to discuss threats and defense strategies.