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They say that few things are guaranteed in life, except for death and taxes. If you own a business website, you can add something else to that list: ecommerce security threats.

The growth in ecommerce has been matched by a massive spike in cybercrime rates—from a relatively tame 20% increase in ransomware attacks to a terrifying 660% increase in phishing email scams.

With at least 50% of all companies reporting an online attack each year in annual surveys, the question is not if but when your ecommerce platform will get attacked.

And knowing is half the battle. 

In this article, I'll outline eight of the most critical security threats to your ecommerce business and solutions to protect yourself.

Security Threats And How To Secure Your Site

Read on to find the eight most common security threats, along with the best way to protect your ecommerce website from them.

1. Payment fraud

This type of ecommerce security threat is as old as the business itself. Hackers and criminals use stolen credit cards or stolen credit card information to make unauthorized transactions. Credit card fraud is usually hard to trace and can cause significant losses to ecommerce firms.

Fake refunds are another popular ploy used by cybercriminals, resulting in losses worth billions of dollars for the online retail industry. Instead of returning original items, the fraudsters send damaged, discarded, or stolen items to the retailers.

You can use ecommerce fraud prevention software to help detect and prevent phony online transactions or chargeback schemes.

Solution: PCI DSS compliance

Maintain PCI DSS compliance on your payment pages. All online merchants are encouraged to follow these security standards, maintained by the PCI Security Standards Council—an independent body created by major card companies like VISA, MasterCard, and American Express.

Credit Cards with PCI DSS Standards Image
Major credit card companies have established the PCI DSS standards to reduce the risk of online payment fraud. (Source: Republica on Pixabay)

2. Phishing

A form of online impersonation, phishing is a growing menace in the cybersecurity business. The criminals try to extricate login credentials, credit card details, and other sensitive information from their unwitting targets, often using deceptive emails.

The emails are masqueraded as communication from legitimate sources, like banks, government agencies, business partners, or other retailers. These emails usually contain fake links to login pages of a real website—when you enter your login data, the cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to your accounts.

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Solution: Training and vigilance

Improve awareness among your employees and customers about the importance of caution and constant vigilance. Since phishing attacks target individuals and not computer systems and software, this is the only potential solution.

You can also test your firm for vulnerabilities by conducting mock drills—send fake phishing emails to your employees—if anybody responds, assist and guide them so that they are better equipped to avoid genuine attacks in the future.

A secure email gateway can block 99% of all spam and phishing emails using filters. This, combined with policies like two-factor authentication, frequent security audits, and regular updates to software, can help minimize the risk posed by phishing.

Top companies like Google and Microsoft run periodic phishing training and vigilance campaigns.

Example of a Phising Email Screenshot
An example of a phishing email that an individual might receive. (Source: Wikipedia)

3. Social engineering

Social engineering uses the same impersonation tactics used in phishing—the main difference is that social engineering can take many forms other than email. The criminal might use phone calls, social media messages and profiles, and other means to contact you or your employees.

They then manipulate these individuals into accidentally revealing sensitive personal data. While phishing targets many people in the hope of snagging a few victims, social engineering is more sophisticated and targets specific individuals, like senior administrators at ecommerce businesses.

Solution: Training and vigilance

The solution here is the same as with phishing—remind your staff about the potential threats that may emerge from social media and train them to identify suspicious messages or calls. Conducting the odd mock test and regular security checks will help keep everyone alert.

4. Spam

You may associate this term readily with your email inbox, but it is also a threat to any ecommerce site that allows visitors to leave comments/feedback. Spammers may abuse these systems to leave dangerous links or just flood your pages with ads.

Solution: Spam filtering

Use anti-virus and spam filtering tools on your online shopping site. Train your employees in anti-spam techniques and tactics.

5. SQL injections & XSS 

One particularly dangerous threat here is cross-site scripting (XSS)—the attacker will inject malicious code onto your online business sites, often exploiting the weaknesses in JavaScript.

This code will then attack other customers who visit your online store. Also called an injection attack, XSS can heavily damage your site ranking and reputation on search engines.

SQL injections are similar to XSS in how they are deployed against your sites. But unlike XSS, SQL targets your system database, intending to steal sensitive data instead of attacking visitors to your ecommerce sites.

Solution: SQL filters and XSS scans

Use Web Application Firewalls, SQL filters, and frequent scans for XSS vulnerabilities to prevent security breaches of this kind. Any staff involved in site building or backend maintenance must be trained in detecting and preventing common vulnerabilities in HTML, JavaScript, and other plugins or widgets on your site.

A Graph Showing the Most Common Vulnerabilities When it Comes to Ecommerce Security Threats Screenshot
SQL Injections and XSS are two of the most common ecommerce security threats and vulnerabilities. (Source: Mozilla)

6. DDoS attacks

Dedicated denial of service attacks (DDoS) put your websites and online store servers under siege. Using multiple hacked computers, IoT devices, or bad bots, the criminals initiate orchestrated attacks that overwhelm your ecommerce site and prevent normal functioning.

Apart from blocking sales, these attacks also cost your business in other ways, using up your site bandwidth. The good news here is that DDoS attacks are less frequent than other types of threats, particularly when it comes to smaller businesses.

Solution: DDoS protection service

If you feel your site is vulnerable to such a threat, use a DDoS protection service. It will monitor all incoming traffic, preemptively blocking any requests that seem to be fraudulent.

DDoS Graphics Screenshot
DDoS attacks can bring your entire ecommerce website to a standstill, using thousands of bots to overwhelm your networks. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

7. Weak passwords

For the sake of convenience, many individuals at ecommerce businesses tend to use passwords that are simple and easy to remember. Unfortunately, this is also good news for enterprising cybercriminals, who have a plethora of options at their disposal.

Some simpler passwords can be cracked using plain old guesswork and a background check on the person who set the password.

So, don’t use your birthday or pet’s name as your password, please.

Other stronger passwords can still be cracked using brute force—specially designed programs can try out thousands of possible passwords quickly until they find the right one (the technique is called brute-forcing).

Solution: Use stronger passwords!

Enforce a strict policy on password strength within your business organization. Use multi-factor authentication internally on your admin accounts and customer profiles for important changes.

Sign in Page from LinkedIn Screenshot
Many websites force users to create strong passwords by setting criteria that make passwords hard to guess and less susceptible to brute-force attacks.

8. Malware and ransomware

These are threats that probably require no introduction. Anyone who has used a computer in the last two decades will be acutely aware of the security issues posed by viruses, trojans, and, more recently, ransomware.

They arrive in the form of email attachments, hidden inside downloaded .exe files or apps, and via widgets or plugins on WordPress. Malware is incredibly diverse and versatile—it can do everything from data theft to data corruption, real-time monitoring, and more.

Solution: Anti-malware software & best practices

Installing and using dedicated antivirus software and other anti-malware detection tools would be a good starting point. But for maximum protection, you have to combine that with other security measures, like SSL certificates on all your pages, the use of HTTPS, secure servers, firewalls, and regular backups.

Ransomware Image Screenshot
Ransomware attacks can cause severe damage to ecommerce businesses by locking you out of critical systems. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Protect Your Ecommerce Store

As you can see, there is no silver bullet or magic elixir that can solve all your ecommerce security woes in one go. Effective protection against cyber threats requires proper security solutions, awareness, training, and constant vigilance.

As cyber threats and website security risks constantly evolve, you should keep yourself updated. Sign up for The Ecomm Manager newsletter for the latest ecommerce news and cybersecurity trends.  

Have you or your organization ever been on the wrong end of one of these cyber attacks? If so, how did it impact your business, and what steps did you take to neutralize it and move forward? Feel free to share your valuable insights in the comments section below!

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Preetam Kaushik
By Preetam Kaushik

An experienced business journalist and renowned digital strategist, Preetam has written for the likes of WIRED, The Huffington Post, the World Economic Forum, and Business Insider. He holds an MBA in Finance from Alliance University and has previously worked for Deloitte, informing the unique expertise that is a hallmark of his writing. He currently works a freelance journalist for ASEAN Today while his work has been cited by numerous major media outlets, such as The Washington Post and Yahoo! Finance.