Once again retailers are ramping up operations in time for the infamous Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Given the recent huge scale DDoS attacks powered by IOT devices under the control of the Mirai botnet retailers are taking many precautions to keep transactions flowing during the sales. Unfortunately, just as the retailers are getting prepared so are the attackers, ready to seize any opportunity to steal user’s data or hold retailers to ransom.

Attackers often use the sales period to mask fraudulent transactions and attacks relying on security teams being unable to process the ever-larger volumes of data quickly enough. 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 a sudden flurry of increased spending.

The main threat on offer this year is ransomware as users quickly plow through email offers in the pursuit of a bargain. We are already seeing attackers generating phishing campaigns that appear to be offers or delivery notes in order to manipulate the user into opening malicious content and becoming infected. One major issue faced by organisations is users browsing shopping websites and using personal web based email as this often bypasses network safeguards such as email filters resulting in threats reaching the endpoint. This is why it is important to build on solid proactive endpoint security and not rely on network or detection products alone.

Retailers are also a key target as attackers know that they can demand high ransoms for access to data, systems, and even websites during this critical period. 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 leaking customers 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. As the sales get bigger every year so does the risk, with huge quantities of money at stake. It is important then to think about robust proactive security measures to protect yourself and your organisation.

Hopefully retailers have learnt the lessons of past 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 defence in 2016. Stay secure this year and grab yourself a bargain not a breach on Black Friday.