Hackers Playing Grinch Could Dampen Your Holiday Sales

Created on Nov 24 2014, 11:48 PM by Russell Roering

hackers grinch thomas hawk flickr.jpg

As the holiday shopping season descends upon retailers and shoppers, storm clouds of apprehension from recent data breaches continue to darken the perception of safety among some consumers. A recent study conducted by CreditCards.com and reported on by Huffington Post found that 45% of gift-grabbing respondents would “definitely not” or “probably not” shop at major retailers that suffered data breaches this year. The study also noted that 48% of shoppers said they would use cash instead of debit or credit cards, due to the high number of recent data breaches.

Given that retailers depend on holiday sales to meet their annual goals, losing nearly half of its holiday customer base either online or at a brick-and-mortar store could have devastating financial implications for these outlets. Make no mistake: Trust drives sales. And as the data above shows, once that trust is shaken, it can be difficult to rebuild.

Double check the security of transactions

Organizations need to focus on both continuing to shore up their defenses and their customers’ trust, as today’s vulnerability could be tomorrow’s casualty. During the holiday season, the temptation for hackers is at its highest. Below are a few steps your organization’s IT department should consider putting in place to ensure security this holiday season:

  • On-site security. Online retailers should help consumers feel safe right away when visiting their site.This can be done by using the Extended Validation (EV) SSL green address bar, Always On SSL (AOSSL) throughout the entire shopping experience, and posting the Norton Secured Seal at any areas where the consumer needs to make a decision (e.g. login, order page, payments page)
  • Secure data transfer. Various studies have shown that 56% of all data breaches could be stopped by having encryption protecting network data. Use network security solutions (even between internal corporate networks) such as Symantec Endpoint Protection to harden endpoints, encrypt data, and provide layered protection against malware.
  • Train employees to spot social engineering. Remember, many attacks happen due to “social engineering”: Manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. Hackers being able to attack one employee’s computer can leave the remainder of the internal network at risk of exposing critical data or information.so protection between individual parts of the corporate network is just as important.
  • Integrate with the company’s crisis communication plan. IT can help the overall crisis communications plan by developing “dark pages” on the corporate website. Dark pages should include pertinent contact information and communication channels which could be pushed live in the wake of a breach. Pages should also include frequently asked questions and placeholders for answers to quickly get facts out ahead of third-party articles, opinions from experts and a spike in brand conversation on social media channels.

Respond promptly to any issues

Because of this loss of trust, IT security staff of breached retailers should be especially vigilant during the holiday season; becoming deeply involved in helping the organization repair besmirched trust with customers to reinforce the assurance of safe shopping will be critical to this process.  If your organization happens to experience a breach during the holidays, or even during the rest of the year, here are a few steps IT can take to help to restore trust:

  • Create an online support forum on the corporate website which is easily located and visible to provide customers with official information regarding the breach your organization suffered, a way to report fraudulent activity (some states even require this), and a way to notify the organization directly if they suspect another breach has taken place. Respond to all serious inquiries and assume any could be legitimate.
  • Anticipate questions and lend expertise to help guide restorative messaging to customers. IT is uniquely positioned on the front lines of a breach, which is important at the moment of breach, but we become important again in offering customers assurance post-breach.
  • Spread the word. Provide communications both on the corporate website as well as on the company social media channels to explain how the company took steps to manage security. Also note that this messaging should be Legal- and CISO-approved.
  • Be mindful of new threats from scammers looking to take advantage of potential vulnerabilities in the wake of a breach. IT can aid the investigation, reporting and communicating with the public and board members about damaging content.
  • Learn from a breach. In the days and weeks after a breach, share website referral traffic stats with the security response team to help guide a post-breach communication and monitoring strategy for the future. For example, finding that a great number of users clicked links to your website from a single news outlet or social network.

The holidays are by far the most critical time for retailers to be thinking about security, but it shouldn’t be the only time. Breaches can happen out of the blue; use your position in IT to help keep grinches at bay and keep your customer’s information—and their trust in your business—secure. Breached organizations should follow these guidelines year-round, disclosing breaches quickly and transparently, and keeping the communication focus on protecting users in the future.

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