November 23, 2012

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Survival Guide

Carl Leonard Principal Security Analyst

Many of our colleagues, customers and readers would have now enjoyed their fill of turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and are preparing for a second day of festivities with the arrival of Black Friday.  This traditionally, for North American retailers and consumers, marks the start of the holiday shopping season and although it is not observed for many as a national holiday, more and more retailers across the globe are launching Black Friday promotions in order to entice consumers and increase sales.  Additionally, given that Black Friday is typically a physical 'bricks-and-mortar' retail affair, online retailers seek to continue the shopping frenzy with additional offers, promotions and sales with Cyber Monday, a marketing term coined in 2005 by Shop.org.

Of course, retailers and consumers are not alone in their preparations for the shopping period and here at Websense® Security Labs™, the Websense ThreatSeeker® Network continues to detect and protect customers from numerous malicious campaigns that look to exploit bargain hunters and shoppers throughout this period.

Malicious campaigns detected and blocked thus far, predominately play upon Black Friday themes to spam-promote scam websites offering loans, fake degrees and such like. We also see scams that entice victims to complete survey scams in order to harvest personal information.

In addition to wearing appropriate clothing and footwear as well as remembering to drink sufficient amounts of water, Security Labs presents our Black Friday/Cyber Monday Survival Guide:

#1 "If it looks too good to be true..."
Large retailers may offer knock-down prices and fantastic first-come-first-served deals however, think twice before clicking on that email link or completing that purchase on that 'new' website you've just found.

Fake websites are created by scammers to entice buyers using terminology such as 'wholesale prices' or 'liquidated stock'. Combine this with a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal and you could be convinced that you've just secured the latest gadget at a fraction of the retail price. In reality, you're handing over your payment details to a scammer who will at best only charge you for the fictitious goods.

Apple products for less than half the retail price... Really?

These scams are unfortunately not limited to dedicated scam websites and individual fictitious products infiltrate well-known online retailers and auction sites. Successfully purchasing bargains through third-party sellers via a retailers 'marketplace' or an online auction is common practice, however, apply rule #1 and consider rule #2.

Remember: If it looks too good to be true... it probably is"

#2 "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation..."

Many interactions in our everyday lives rely on reputation and our online interactions should be no different. Just because an email claims to be from a particular retailer or organization it doesn't mean that it is. Many online retailers have spent a great deal of time and effort building their reputation and are unlikely to dilute their brand by sending emails from free webmail accounts or creating websites on obscure URLs.

If you have suspicions regarding an email or link don't follow it. Go directly to the organization's website before logging-in or making a purchase and don't be afraid to contact an organization to verify the validity of something you've received. 

Suspicious URLs can also be checked using our ACEInsight Site Analysis tool, a free service powered by the Websense TRITON™ architecture that will perform a real-time security and content classification check.

If you're submitting any personal information online; many retailers will use additional security features such as HTTPS and Extended Validation Certificates (EV) and these are evident by a padlock icon and organization name appearing on the address bar in green. These steps indicate that additional verification steps have been taken and confirm that authenticity of the website you're visiting, if you're making an online purchase or submitting personal or financial information these measures also help to secure your data in transit and protect it from prying eyes (man-in-the-middle attacks).

Reputation confirmed by an Extended Validation Certificate

If you're considering a purchase from a marketplace seller or online auction remember to review ratings or feedback and confirm that they are reputable. Additionally, avoid using payment methods outside of the marketplace or auction site as these are common scam traits - not only are you likely to fall outside of any payment protection schemes, many scammers will encourage you to use money transfer methods that are difficult to track and recover.

Remember: "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it." - Benjamin Franklin

#3 "Loose lips..."
It's possible that not even your closest friend knows your date of birth (for those of us above a certain age), your mother's maiden name or indeed the name of your first goldfish let alone your PIN, card verification code and credit-card number! Given this, think carefully before surrendering this information and be suspicious of any email, website or social network post that requests personal and/or financial information... you may find that your details are being used to fund someone else's shopping-spree!

Phishing campaigns, as shown in our recent Insights Blog, are most popular on Mondays and Fridays which just so happens to tie-in with this weekend's busy shopping period. Financial organizations and retailers are highly unlikely to ask you to 'Verify your account' or 'Unlock your account' and then have you submit all of your personal details again. If in doubt, visit the organizations website directly or contact them via alternate means to confirm their request. 

If you're submitting any personal information online, confirm the reputation (rule #2) of the organization. Will they be protecting your data and using it for its intended purpose? Or is this a ruse to gather personal information for further spam/scam campaigns or even identity theft?

Remember: "Loose lips sink ships!"

#4 "There's no such thing as a free lunch..."

As often the case when invited to lunch with family members, we may pay a small price for lunch by fixing that printer problem or removing malware from the abused family PC... a small price compared to the time and effort required to put the meal in front of you. In the case of scammers, the free lunch or more to the point 'free gift card' or 'free hugely popular consumer electronic device'  is offered in return for the simply filling in an online survey or completing a qualifying purchase in order to secure that vastly more expensive item. 

Commonly these scams utilize emails and social network posts claiming to be from popular brands informing you that 'You have received a gift card from us' or 'Giveaway'. The links of course, if not leading you to malicious websites that could potentially compromise your machine, lead you through a series of sites to harvest your personal information and/or entice you into purchasing memberships, ebooks and other items all in order to secure that great freebie.  Once harvested, your data at best could be passed to marketing organizations to further target you, or at worst for identity fraud. 

Free iPad?

Free giftcard?

Ask yourself the question, would the brand really give away high-value gift-cards and goods in return for a completed survey? Whilst prize draws and money-off coupons are common rewards, consider our other survival guide tips before answering the question.

Remember: "There's no such thing as a free lunch... somebody has to pay"

#5 "Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions..."

Here in Security Labs, we've seen, blogged about, and protected customers from countless malicious email campaigns which misuse popular brand identities to entice trusting consumers to open malicious attachments which then lead to the compromise of their machines. Whilst no specific examples of Black Friday / Cyber Monday malicious emails are being detected at the time of writing, this attack vector could easily be exploited to take advantage of those of us waiting for an all-important email laden with shopping bargains.

However enticing, interesting or compelling an email attachment looks - don't open it unless you are sure of its source.

Attached order confirmations or coupons may appear to be legitimate, particularly when you're placing a number of orders online. Confirm that these are related to transactions that you've made and consider the behavior. Is it normal for this particular retailer to send you the order confirmation as an attachment rather than within the actual email?

Remember: "Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached." - Simone Weil

#6: "The hair is real..."

Those of you camping outside stores awaiting the bargain stampede are sure to be using mobile devices to stay up-to-date with the latest offers and news... but how do you keep on top of numerous retailers and offers? A quick search on any mobile application store or marketplace is sure to reveal any one of a number of apps that will take care of this task for you, aggregating numerous news feeds, offers and store deals into one handy app. The question is, can you trust it? As seen with the launch of many high-profile mobile games and applications, attackers exploit mobile users by publishing fake applications which may give you a little more than you've bargained for... perhaps premium-rate SMS ,or just harvesting personal data from your smartphone.

Before installing any application, be sure to check the permissions that it's requesting . Does a simple offer app really need the ability to modify or delete items on your smartphone's storage card? How about it integrating with your phone book? If in doubt, don't install it. And, of course, check the reviews to confirm that the app's reputation is trustworthy.

Remember: "The hair is real; it's the head that's fake." - Steve Allen

#7: "I alone cannot change the world..."

In the sense of community and coming together, please do leave a comment and share anything suspicious you encounter this weekend. Whilst we've prepared this survival guide, albeit in a light-hearted fashion, for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, these threats and our guidelines are relevant throughout the year. Enjoy your shopping and stay safe. And by all means drop us a line if you find any real 'highly desirable consumer electronic gadgets' at a knock-down prices!

Remember: "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." - Mother Teresa

Carl Leonard

Principal Security Analyst

Carl Leonard is a Principal Security Analyst within Forcepoint X-Labs. He is responsible for enhancing threat protection and threat monitoring technologies at Forcepoint, in collaboration with the company’s global Labs teams. Focusing on protecting companies against the latest cyberattacks that...

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About Forcepoint

Forcepoint is the leading user and data protection cybersecurity company, entrusted to safeguard organizations while driving digital transformation and growth. Our solutions adapt in real-time to how people interact with data, providing secure access while enabling employees to create value.