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How to Protect Your Online Store from Cyber Threats

Last Updated on 21st May, 2024 | Ecommerce

E-commerce Security Threats and Protection Measures

E-commerce Security Threats and Protection Measures

Ecommerce has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, leading to an increasing reliance on online transactions and the collection of vast amounts of sensitive customer data. However, this shift has also exposed ecommerce businesses to a diverse array of security threats, making ecommerce security a paramount concern. Cybercriminals view ecommerce sites as lucrative targets, with the retail, financial services, and payment industries being the most frequently targeted sectors.

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, ecommerce businesses must adopt a proactive and comprehensive approach to security, staying ahead of cybercriminals and maintaining the trust of their customers. By prioritizing ecommerce security, businesses can protect their operations, reputation, and long-term success in the digital marketplace.

Importance of Ecommerce Security

With the rapid growth of e-commerce in recent years, online businesses are facing growing security threats. As more and more businesses move their operations online and customers conduct an increasing number of financial transactions through ecommerce sites, security has become paramount. Any breach can result in loss of customer data, financial fraud, and lasting reputational damage. Implementing robust ecommerce security measures is essential for protecting businesses and customers in today’s threat landscape.

Prevalence of Cyber Attacks Targeting Ecommerce Businesses

Ecommerce businesses are highly lucrative targets for cybercriminals. According to a recent FBI report, ecommerce sites experience around 38% of all online attacks. Retail, financial services and payment industries tend to be the most targeted sectors. Common attacks include web application attacks, point-of-sale intrusions, payment data breaches, and digital skimming. With the huge volumes of sensitive customer data they store, ecommerce sites continue to be vulnerable to data breaches, phishing attacks, malware infections and more. As threats evolve, businesses need to stay ahead of hackers with proactive security.

What is Ecommerce Security?

key principles of ecommerce security

Ecommerce security refers to the measures and protocols implemented to protect online transactions and customer information from various cyber threats. This encompasses a broad range of practices and technologies designed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data exchanged during ecommerce activities. Four key principles underpin a robust ecommerce security strategy:

1. Privacy

E-commerce sites collect vast amounts of customer data, including names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, payment information, and browsing history. Ensuring the privacy of this sensitive information is crucial for maintaining user trust and avoiding data exposures that may lead to fraud or identity theft.

2. Integrity

The accuracy and consistency of customer data, financial transactions and other business information must be protected through measures like encryption and access controls. Unauthorized changes or deletions can severely impact ecommerce operations.

3. Authentication

The identities of customers, employees and other users must be verified before allowing access to sensitive ecommerce resources. Strong authentication mechanisms are essential to prevent unauthorized access.

4. Non-repudiation

Online transactions, communications and other activities must have undeniable proof of origin and delivery to prevent later denial. Cryptographic techniques like digital signatures provide non-repudiation.

Reasons Why Ecommerce Security Cannot Be Overlooked

With rising cybercrime, no online business can afford to ignore ecommerce security. Some key reasons include:

  • Customer data protection obligations – Businesses have to safeguard the personal and financial information customers entrust to them. Negligence can lead to lawsuits, fines and loss of trust.
  • Threat of financial fraud – Fraud involving stolen payment card details, fake transactions and identity theft can result in major monetary losses if security fails.
  • Reputational damage from breaches – Security incidents that compromise customer data quickly erode public trust in a brand, causing long-term revenue declines.
  • Intellectual property protection – From product designs to source code, ecommerce sites harbor valuable IP that can be stolen and misused by malicious actors if not properly secured.
  • Compliance with regulations – Numerous legal and industry standards like PCI DSS require certain security controls, and non-compliance can incur penalties.
  • Business continuity – With so many processes being digitized, ecommerce sites rely heavily on the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data. Lax security puts operations at risk.

Common Ecommerce Security Threats

common ecommerce security threats

Ecommerce businesses face a diverse array of cyber threats that require comprehensive safeguards. Major threat categories include:

Lack of Trust in Privacy and Security

Customers’ concerns over privacy breaches and insecure transactions can deter them from shopping online. Key threats that stoke these fears include:

1. Counterfeit sites

Fake ecommerce sites impersonate real businesses to steal financial and personal information from customers. They rely on spoofed domains, logos and content.

2. Malicious website alterations

Hackers may infiltrate legitimate sites and modify pages or insert unwanted content to steal data or spread malware.

3. Theft of customer data

E-commerce sites are prime targets for data breaches, which aim to obtain customer details like payment card numbers for fraudulent use or sale on the dark web.

4. Network and system damage

Malware infestations, denial of service attacks and other intrusions can disrupt or destroy ecommerce infrastructure through means like corrupting databases.

5. Denial of service attacks

DDoS attacks can overload sites with traffic, causing outages that prevent customers from accessing online stores and resulting in lost sales.

6. Fraudulent access to sensitive data

Attackers often use stolen credentials, brute force attacks or other intrusion methods to access and misuse sensitive business and customer information improperly.

Malware, Viruses, and Online Frauds

Various forms of malicious code and criminal fraud schemes plague ecommerce:

1. Worms, viruses, Trojan horses

Malware including self-replicating worms, harmful viruses and deceptive Trojans can delete data, steal information or gain system control.

2. Data theft, erasure, and access blockage

Specialized malware is tailored to capture sensitive customer and business data, erase or encrypt it for ransom, or block legitimate access to ecommerce systems.

Uncertainty and Complexity in Online Transactions

Aspects of doing business online open ecommerce to vulnerabilities including:

1. Payment

The complexity of payment systems and the prevalence of stolen payment card details enable fraudulent purchases, charity scams, and other online payment fraud.

2. Dispute Resolution

Lack of customer support and unclear dispute resolution create uncertainty over recourse in cases of non-delivery, defective goods, or hacked accounts.

3. Delivery

Inadequate identity verification and tracking make it easier for fraudsters to ship to bogus addresses or deny deliveries to steal paid goods.

Internal Ecommerce Security Risks

Internal ecommerce security risks refer to threats that originate from within an organization, often involving employees, contractors, or business partners. These risks can be just as damaging, if not more so, than external threats. Here are some key internal security risks to be aware of:

1. Insider Threats: Employees or contractors with access to sensitive information might misuse their privileges. This could be intentional, such as theft of data, or unintentional, like falling for phishing scams.

2. Poor Access Control: Without strict access controls, too many employees might have unnecessary access to sensitive data. Ensuring that only those who need access to certain information have it is crucial for security.

3. Inadequate Training: Employees who are not properly trained in security protocols are more likely to make mistakes that can lead to data breaches. Regular training on the latest security practices is essential.

4. Weak Password Policies: If employees use weak passwords or reuse passwords across multiple accounts, attackers can easily gain access to systems. Implementing strong password policies and multi-factor authentication can mitigate this risk.

5. Lack of Monitoring: Without proper monitoring of employee activities, suspicious behavior may go unnoticed. Regular audits and real-time monitoring can help detect and address security issues promptly.

6. Unsecured Networks: Employees accessing company systems from unsecured networks, such as public Wi-Fi, can expose sensitive information to interception by unauthorized parties. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) should be used to secure these connections.

7. Insufficient Physical Security: Physical access to servers, workstations, and other hardware must be controlled. Unauthorized physical access can lead to data theft or system compromise.

8. Third-Party Vendor Risks: Partners and vendors with access to the ecommerce platform or customer data can introduce vulnerabilities. It’s important to vet third parties and ensure they follow strict security practices.

9. Data Mishandling: Employees might mishandle data by copying it to insecure locations, sharing it improperly, or failing to delete it when no longer needed. Clear data handling policies and regular audits can help prevent these issues.

Examples of High-Profile Company Data Breaches

Data breaches can have severe consequences for large enterprises, leading to financial losses, reputational damage, and legal repercussions. Here are some notable examples of data breaches that have affected large companies:

Equifax (2017): One of the most significant data breaches in history, the Equifax breach exposed the personal information of approximately 147 million people. Hackers exploited a vulnerability in the company’s web application, gaining access to names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers.

Yahoo (2013-2014): Yahoo suffered two major data breaches, with the first one in 2013 affecting all 3 billion of its user accounts. The second breach in 2014 compromised 500 million accounts. Information such as names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and hashed passwords were stolen.

Target (2013): During the holiday shopping season, Target experienced a data breach that affected 40 million credit and debit card accounts. Hackers gained access to the company’s network through a third-party vendor and installed malware on the point-of-sale systems, capturing card details.

Marriott International (2018): Marriott disclosed a data breach that affected approximately 500 million guests. The breach, which occurred over four years, involved unauthorized access to the Starwood guest reservation database. Compromised data included names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, and payment card information.

Sony PlayStation Network (2011): Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked, exposing the personal information of about 77 million accounts. The breach resulted in the theft of names, addresses, email addresses, birth dates, and login credentials, and the network was down for 23 days.

Anthem (2015): The health insurance giant Anthem suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of 78.8 million individuals. Hackers gained access to names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, and employment information by infiltrating the company’s IT system.

eBay (2014): In a breach that affected 145 million users, eBay’s database was compromised, leading to the theft of encrypted passwords and other personal information such as names, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth. The breach occurred after attackers gained access to employee login credentials.

Home Depot (2014): Home Depot experienced a data breach that compromised 56 million credit and debit card numbers. Hackers used stolen credentials from a third-party vendor to install malware on the company’s point-of-sale systems, capturing card details during transactions.

Ecommerce Website Security Measures

Comprehensive ecommerce security requires a layered defense combining policies, software and services for robust protection.

Multi-Layer Security

Overlapping security controls create a strong web of protection including:

1. Content Delivery Network (CDN)

CDNs enhance performance, uptime and malware protection by distributing site content globally across edge servers.

2. Multi-Factor Authentication

MFA adds an extra layer by requiring users provide two or more credentials to login, such as biometrics and one-time passcodes along with passwords.

Secure Server Layer (SSL) Certificates

SSL certificates encrypt data during transit between browsers and servers to safeguard sensitive transactions and communications. Extended Validation certificates provide maximum trust signaling.


Network-level firewalls filter inbound and outbound traffic based on rules to block unauthorized access, malware and known malicious IPs. Web application firewalls protect specific applications.

Anti-Malware Software

Endpoint security suites prevent infections and combat existing malware through advanced detection engines, behavior monitoring, machine learning and other techniques.

PCI-DSS Compliance

Adhering to the comprehensive Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards reduces payment data theft and fraud.

Additional Security Best Practices

Beyond core measures, ecommerce merchants should follow these vital security practices:

Regulatory Compliance

Adhering to applicable data protection, ecommerce and financial regulations demonstrates security diligence and builds customer trust.

Security Audits

Independent audits help identify vulnerabilities not caught by internal testing, ensuring continual improvement of defenses.

Regular Data Backups

Backing up customer data, financial records and other business-critical information enables restoration after malicious encryption or deletion.

Secure Hosting Services

Reputable managed hosting providers offer hardened server infrastructure with built-in redundancy, DDoS mitigation, managed firewalls and more.

Vulnerability Scanning

Static and dynamic scanning uncovers security flaws in web apps and networks before criminals exploit them.

Secure Payment Processing

PCI-compliant payment gateways and processors provide multilayered protection against payment fraud.

Strong Customer Authentication

Verifying identities by information matching, challenging questions, using SMS codes, and using other techniques to combat fraudulent new accounts.

Protecting Against Chargeback Fraud

Steps like sending email purchase confirmations, providing customer support and tracking deliveries deter illegitimate chargeback claims.

Employee and Customer Education

Training staff and users to spot and avoid scams, unsafe behavior and social engineering lowers human-element risks.

Monitoring For Security Red Flags

Actively monitoring for signs of intrusion like system anomalies and blocked geo-locations enables rapid incident response.

Final Thoughts

As hackers develop more sophisticated and automated attacks, ecommerce merchants must implement layered defenses and continually assess new vulnerabilities. Taking a reactive approach often fails to address zero-day threats.

With rising data exposures and online fraud, consumers are increasingly wary of security when shopping online. A holistic strategy combining policies, software, services, auditing and staff training is key to safeguarding operations and nurturing customer confidence. Prioritizing security protects revenue and reputation.

E-commerce security presents multifaceted challenges that necessitate robust cyber defenses and vigilant risk monitoring. The steps outlined in this guide provide a strong starting point for securing online businesses in today’s complex threat landscape, helping merchants safely conduct operations and expand their customer base.