Vulnerabilities-Web Application Security

Buyer beware: Don’t get more than you bargained for this Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is just a few days away now, and no doubt this year will set new records for online spending. Online sales in the US alone are expected to reach $3 billion on Cyber Monday, November 30th, which will be one of the largest single days for online sales in history. Unfortunately, however, we’ve found that over a quarter of UK and US-based consumers will be shopping for bargains and making purchases without first checking to see if the website of the retailer they are buying from is secure.


A survey1 conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of WhiteHat Security discovered this disturbing fact, as well as the fact that shoppers in the US are more likely to put themselves at risk than those in the UK, with more than a third of US-based respondents admitting that they wouldn’t check the website’s security before purchasing. This is particularly worrying given that more than half of shoppers are expecting to use their credit or debit card to purchase goods this Black Friday weekend.


The consumer survey also found that a third of UK and US-based shoppers are not sure, or definitely do not know how to identify if a website is secure.


Of course, the retailers themselves have a big part to play in website security. Researchers from our Threat Research Center (TRC) analyzed retail websites between July and September 20152 and found that they are more likely to exhibit serious vulnerabilities compared to other industries. The most commonly occurring critical vulnerability classes for the retail industry were:


  • Insufficient Transport Layer Protection (with 64% likelihood): When applications do not take measures to authenticate, encrypt, and protect sensitive network traffic, data such as payment card details and personal information can be left exposed and attackers may intercept and view the information.
  • Cross Site Scripting (with 57% likelihood): Attackers can use a vulnerable website as a vehicle to deliver malicious instructions to a victim’s browser. This can lead to further attacks such as keylogging, impersonating the user, phishing and identity theft.
  • Information Leakage (with 54% likelihood): Insecure applications may reveal sensitive data that can be used by an attacker to exploit the target web application, its hosting network, or its users.
  • Brute Force (with 38% likelihood): Most commonly targeting log-in credentials, brute force attacks can also be used to retrieve the session identifier of another user, enabling the attacker to retrieve personal information and perform actions on behalf of the user.
  • Cross Site Request Forgery (with 29% likelihood): Using social engineering (such as sending a link via email or chat), attackers can trick users into submitting a request, such as transferring funds or changing their email address or password.


In response to the survey’s findings, my colleague and WhiteHat founder, Jeremiah Grossman, said, “This research suggests that when it comes to website security awareness, not only is there still some way to go on the part of the consumer, but the retailers themselves could benefit from re-assessing their security measures, particularly when considering the volume and nature of customer information that will pass through their websites this Cyber Monday.”


WhiteHat is in the business of helping organizations in the retail and other sectors secure their applications and websites. But for consumers, Grossman offers up a few simple tricks that can help shoppers stay safe online over this holiday shopping season:


  • Look out for ‘HTTPS’ when browsing: HTTP – the letters that show up in front of the URL when browsing online – indicates that the web page is using a non-secure way of transmitting data. Data can be intercepted and read at any point between the computer and the website. HTTPS on the other hand means that all the data being transmitted is encrypted. Look out for the HTTPS coloured in either green or red and a lock icon.
  • Install a modern web browser and keep it up to date: Most people are already using one of the well known web browsers, but it is also very important that they are kept up to date with the latest security patches.
  • Be wary of public WiFi: While connecting to free WiFi networks seems like a good idea, it can be extremely dangerous as it has become relatively easy for attackers to set up WiFi hotspots to spy on traffic going back and forth between users and websites. Never trust a WiFi network and avoid banking, purchasing or sensitive transactions while connected to public WiFi.
  • Go direct to the website: There will be plenty of ‘big discount’ emails around over the next few days that will entice shoppers to websites for bargain purchases. Shoppers should make sure that they go direct to the site from their web browser, rather than clicking through the email.
  • Make your passwords hard to guess: Most people wouldn’t have the same key for their car, home, office etc., and for the same reason, it makes sense to have hard-to-guess, unique passwords for online accounts.
  • Install ad blocking extensions: Malicious software often infects computers through viewing or clicking on online advertisements, so it is not a bad idea to install an ad blocking extension that either allows users to surf the web without ads, or completely block the invisible trackers that ads use to build profiles of online habits.
  • Stick to the apps you trust: When making purchases on a mobile phone, shoppers are much better off sticking to apps from companies they know and trust, rather than relying on mobile browsers and email.


If you’re a retailer interested in learning more about the security posture of your applications and websites, sign up for a free website security risk assessment. And if you’re a consumer… well, buyer beware. Follow the tips provided here for a safer holiday shopping experience.



1The WhiteHat Security survey of 4,244 online shoppers in the UK and US was conducted between 13 November 2015 and 19 November 2015.


4WhiteHat Security threat researchers conducted likelihood analysis of critical vulnerabilities in retail websites using data collected between 1 July 2015 and 30 September 2015.




Tags: application security, security, Vulnerabilities, web application security