Summary: Security is a serious consideration for any eCommerce platform. It can either make or break customers’ trust in your brand. Read on to learn what potential security threats can your ecommerce website face and what measures you can take to safeguard it.
eCommerce businesses have grown exponentially in the past several years, with the global eCommerce market expected to see sales of over $5.545 trillion in 2022. Fueled by the adoption of mobile technologies, the rise in “borderless” eCommerce, improved payment processing and changing buyer habits, eCommerce growth was further accelerated by the global pandemic. But that growth comes with a price–an increased level of cyber attack.
According to research, 2020 saw a 20% growth in security incidents for 69% of the eCommerce businesses surveyed. According to monitoring of the deep web / darknet and hacker channels, 7.3% of posts were about the eCommerce industry, increasingly targeted due to the growth of the industry and the availability of new technologies, automated tools, and bot armies used by cyber criminals. These cyber attacks may lead to costly data breaches, not to mention potential violations of privacy and security laws (e.g. PCI DSS, GDPR, CCPA).
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Trust is a foundational aspect of success on eCommerce apps & sites – trust that is undermined when the eCommerce site does not appear trustworthy or if there is a history of breached customer information. eCommerce sites must take security seriously and integrate those efforts in a way that is visible to customers (e.g. eCommerce security badges, social proof).
The remainder of this guide will outline the most common eCommerce security threats and a basic guide to how to make an eCommerce website secure.
Common eCommerce Security Threats
While there are many different kinds of cyber attacks, the attacks against eCommerce sites are usually targeted to steal customer data (personal or financial details), passwords, or cause disruption for financial gain. However, Ecommerce Challenges also include several kinds of financial fraud that are perpetuated by individuals as well as threat actors.
The most common eCommerce security threats are:
1. Financial Fraud
eCommerce / payment / financial fraud is when any kind of deception is conducted during a transaction for financial or personal gain.
- Credit card frauds typically committed using a stolen credit cards.
- Unauthorized transactions through account takeover, cybercriminals make unauthorized purchases.
- Fake return & refund requests that involve various scams, including the intention to return stolen merchandise for cash, initiate a return without returning an item, or to lying to a credit card to dispute a valid transaction (chargeback fraud)
2. Social Engineering
A broad term that involves the use of some sort of deception or manipulation to get people to take an action (eg click a link in an email or on a blog comment) or to divulge confidential information. Targets include consumers themselves (often pretending to be your brand) or employees, with the aim to gain access to systems.
Phishing attacks are designed to trick users into giving away sensitive information (usually credentials) or to inadvertently download a virus or malware designed to infiltrate systems or steal data. Such attacks most often come by email, but can also come as text messages or even phone calls.
4. DDoS Attacks
These Dedicated Denial of Service (DDos) attacks send high volumes of traffic that can make an eCommerce website slow and difficult to use. Attackers use these attacks to damage reputation or for financial gain (blackmail).
5. Brute Force Attacks
The Brute Force Attack is an automated attack that uses trial-and-error to guess possible passwords or passphrases to gain access, typically targeting admin panels, but sometimes also targeting consumer accounts.
6. SQL Injections
SQL injection is a code injection technique that inserts code into the SQL database to steal or wipe data from the database.
7. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Threat actors inject malicious scripts into the browser code and run at the client side to scrape user data.
Inserting skimming code on eCommerce payment card processing pages to capture financial and personal information
Malware is designed to attack a website to steal data or send spam from your domain or to provide for lateral activity to other areas of your data.
- Trojan Horse is a kind of malware that misleads users and is downloaded to a computer disguising as a legitimate piece of software.
- Ransomware Ransomware is a kind of malware designed to steal and/or encrypt and lock down data for the purposes of extortion.
How to Secure Your eCommerce Website
The first step in protecting your eCommerce site is to recognize that its needs are different from a standard website. eCommerce websites contain more valuable data, including inventory, pricing, supply chain data, or sensitive user information (username and passwords, contact details, financial information) that cybercriminals can exploit for fraudulent transactions or sell on the black market.
1. Choose a Secure eCommerce Platform
Leading eCommerce platform providers have proven capabilities to support a variety of industries and Ecommerce business models, with the proven ability to support performance, scalability – and security. Here are some of the leading secure eCommerce platforms:
Trusted by over 250,000 active brands, and powering 12% of all eCommerce sites, Magento is a powerful PHP eCommerce platform – and the current Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce.
WooCommerce sits as the second most popular eCommerce platform, with a market share of 23.43%, operating as a free plugin built for WordPress and designed to support small to large merchants who have some technical knowledge.
As a leader in simplicity and user-friendly set-up, Shopify has become a leader in the eCommerce marketplace, with a wide range of tools and plugs to support customization.
For large, fast-growing businesses, BigCommerce has become a platform of choice, with support for omnichannel and cross-channel selling and strong inventory management tools.
The leading eCommerce provider in 2021 with a market share of 23.51%, Squarespace is known for its ability to support creative designs, with modern templates for a more modern shopping aesthetic.
2. Switch to HTTPS
Most consumers now know the importance of https:// vs http:// and know that a site with the padlock and the “s” for security is a genuine business that has taken security seriously.
An HTTPS website has received a security certificate that vouches for the security of that website, protecting sensitive information on that connection against eavesdroppers using the SSL/TLS protocols for encryption and authentication.
3. Choose a Secure eCommerce Host
Many eCommerce platforms will offer hosting for customers with off-site solutions such as Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud, but there are also specialized web hosts that bundle eCommerce functionalities into their services such as shopping cart software, payment processing, automated backups, caching, email services, or data support. Look for a hosting provider that has:
- SSL certificates
- DDoS protection
- Domain name privacy
- PCI Compliance
- Spam filters
- Virus & malware detection and removal
- Automated backup
- Access controls that include SSH and strong authentication
- Strong customer support
- Network monitoring (and how customers are notified of potential threats)
- Physical security protections for servers (e.g. security cameras, gated access)
4. Secure your Admin Area
Administrators have a privileged level of access to secure areas such as the database or to controls on the eCommerce website itself. To protect these sensitive servers and admin panels, consider:
- Changing the default admin area
- Change the default administrator username and password
- Assign credentials by individual (not shared)
- Restricting access to the admin area (Permitting access to known IP addresses)
- Notify administrator on failed login attempts from unknown IP addresses
- Use strong authentication practices (difficult passwords, two-factor or multi-factor authentication)
5. Automate Data Backup
To protect against any kind of disruption, not just security, it is important to never lose customers or purchase information. Backups are the most obvious solution, but eCommerce websites cannot rely on web hosts to do this. The options are either manual – a time consuming process – or an automated backup solution that ideally runs the backup process on a different server (to eliminate performance disruption) and backs up any new changes in real-time.
6. Secure Payment Gateways
A payment gateway is a secure service to process credit card or direct payments.When choosing a payment gateway, make sure that it is:
- Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DDS) compliant – a standard that covers basic security precautions for the storage and processing of credit card and cardholder information. This is a requirement for all eCommerce websites.
- Secured with SSL to encrypt information (see HTTPS section above)
- Leverages tokenization to store data away and assign it a key (in addition to any other encryption or hashing that may protect the data)
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification – another security standard that indicates the organization has conducted audits and proven compliance to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of customer information (see ISO 27001)
7. Data Collection Practices
Although it is tempting to collect as much information as you can about your customers to inform future marketing efforts, many privacy regulations now are clear that data must be limited to only what is needed. Further, these same regulations now include stipulations that consumers have a right to know what data is being collected, to see that data, and to request it be removed (“the right to be forgotten”).
8. Strong Authentication and Access Controls
Authentication (the process of verifying a user is who they say they are) is important for every user of the organization – but particularly for those with access to privileged information or systems. In larger organizations, it is also important to clearly specify the level of privilege – that each account only has access to the systems, software or records needed for that job, and no more.
Given the inherent vulnerability of passwords, 2-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) involve more than one step in authenticating a user is who they say they are. Both 2FA and MFA involve some combination of something a user knows (e.g. password), something a user has (e.g. one-time passcode), or something a user is (e.g. biometric data). For larger organizations, access control solutions such as IAM and PAM can help address security concerns.
9. Enforce Strong Passwords for Customers
Strong password hygiene is the first step in improving access to your eCommerce website, which we can achieve by mandating complex passwords. However, passwords continue to remain a weak method of authentication that the threats we mentioned above can easily exploit. Hence, it is recommended to implement 2FA or MFA for consumers as well as internal employees.
10. Implement Website Hardening Measures
To reduce brute-force attacks against the site, whether on consumer logins or for employee logins, it is important to limit login attempts. This option may be available in the eCommerce platform, via a plugin, or as a third-party solution.
11. Create Security Policies & Procedures
Security best practices always involve a combination of technology alongside improved policies and processes. These policies apply to everyone at work on the eCommerce site, from the customer service desk to the IT desk. This includes:
- Clearly articulated policy on safe practices such as what to do if you suspect fraud, data handling processes (i.e. never copying or sending data, even to yourself), not sharing passwords, patching
- Staff training, provided on an ongoing basis, on topics such as phishing attacks, password hygiene, compliance
- Regularly review third-party plugins and solutions in your store to ensure they are being updated by the partner and that they are patched to the latest version. Remove unused plugins.
12. Have Multi-Layered Security
To mirror the policies and procedures, eCommerce owners must utilize several different technological barriers to improve security. Multi-layered security is the concept of creating a defense in depth – that if one layer fails, another will still be there. The multi-layer concept also ensures defense against many kinds of channels of attack, including email and phishing.
- Web Application Firewall
A protective barrier between the Internet and the eCommerce website
- Content Delivery Network
A content delivery network (CDN) helps ensure fast delivery of the website through caching, but can also provide DDoS mitigation, improvements to security certificates, and other security features.
- Geolocation Anti-Fraud Software
Geolocation data can help combat the more sophisticated attacks on eCommerce, finding irregularities in the IP address or origin of the data and helping to verify cardholder details against transactions to flag for fraud.
- Threat detection & monitoring software
These tools help detect and assess vulnerabilities to eCommerce websites, networks and databases and provide ongoing monitoring of website activity and logins. There are many kinds of third-party monitoring tools available including analysis of disk space, CPU usage, response time, change detection, service uptime, responsiveness, broken links, as well as tools that can perform vulnerability assessments and penetration testing.
13. Keep Your system patched & updated
Regularly updating systems and applications that we use in the eCommerce site is probably the most important step to maintain security (as well as performance!). These updates contain patches to known security vulnerabilities. In fact, 57% of cyberattack victims report the breaches could have been prevented with an available patch.
Your Trusted Ecommerce Services Partner
In the present environment when regulations are continuously evolving and new security threats are emerging, it’s essential to take necessary measures to safeguard your Ecommerce website. You may feel that you can handle the security of your ecommerce website on your own or offload these responsibilities to your platform provider, it’s not going to be easy. Hence, it’s best to have a reliable ecommerce services partner by your side.
If you are looking for someone to help you in auditing your eCommerce website for security, or building a new eCommerce store – our experts can you help provide a strategy to create a robust, scalable, and secure site to sell your products and services.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Ecommerce Security Badge?
A trust badge helps to demonstrate that a website is legitimate and uses vetted third-party service providers. Although the “Guaranteed Safe Checkout” badge denotes that an SSL is used during checkout, some eCommerce websites also add money back guarantee and other service-related badges.
How do I know if my website is secure?
Although the eCommerce security best practices offer great insight into how to become secure, the first step is getting a baseline. There are scanning tools available (e.g. FreeScan and other great options) that provide an overview of current security posture, although these are often very surface level recommendations. If you don’t know where to begin, a security audit by a trusted partner is a great first step.