Online shoppers planning to splash out on deals as Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach need to be aware of the risk of cyber crime, security experts are warning.
Numerous surveys indicate that UK businesses and consumers are facing more cyber threats than ever before, with one recent study conducted by Symantec's Norton finding that one in five UK consumers has been impacted by cyber crime over the past year.
Of 1,000 survey participants, Norton found that two in five (44 percent) were a victim of cyber crime at some point in their lifetime. Additionally, of those who experienced cyber crime in the past year, one in seven UK victims have had financial information stolen as a result of shopping online, the survey reported.
Candid Wueest, Threat Researcher at Symantec, told V3 that theft of this financial data will remain a major risk for consumers this year.
"The most plausible attack against British people shopping online is still the theft of credit card data because that's the easiest way for attackers to make money," he said.
"We already see the increase in spam saying ‘don't wait to get your Christmas shopping done' which sends a coupon then re-directs you to a fake website with the purpose of getting credentials."
The Norton research is backed up by a separate study carried out by Deloitte, which also found that one in five UK adults has been affected by online cyber theft since the beginning of 2014.
"There is a significant increase in the proportion of people having experienced some form of cyber-security breach," the Deloitte report states.
"The most significant increases have been in breaches related to fraud and theft. The data shows that one in five consumers has suffered a financial loss as a result of a cyber-security breach."
According to David Kennerley, senior manager of threat research at cyber security firm Webroot, the results of these reports are not surprising as they simply highlight the fact that cyber crime can now strike anyone.
"[The Deloitte results] highlight the very real impact that major cyber-breaches have on individual users. The fallout from attacks like the TalkTalk breach can continue for months after the event. But online protection has to be a joint effort from both businesses and consumers," he said.
Paul McEvatt, senior cyber threat intelligence manager at Fujitsu, agreed the findings should come as no surprise.
"Criminals seek money, consumers have it, and personal details are the online route to it," he told V3.
"The criminals are entrepreneurial, well-resourced and technically able, so it is unrealistic to hope to prevent breaches. They will occur, so we should ensure that everyone, from consumers to businesses, know what to do to recover."
As such, McEvatt urged online retailers to do everything they can to prepare for the risk that they could be caught up in online data breaches or scams.
"It's vital for organisations to take a proactive approach," he said.
"They must focus on reacting quickly when a breach occurs, and must have well-rehearsed plans in place to understand what happened, minimise the impact, communicate clearly with their customers and restore normal operations as soon as possible."
The Black Friday boom
A well-established US event, Black Friday/Cyber Monday became big business in the UK last year, with both high-street and online retailers offering thousands of discounted items.
And this year is set to be even more lucrative for retailers, according to Andy Mulcahy, insight editor at IMRG.
"It's so difficult when you are dealing with people's behaviour because you can't predict what they are going to do but we look at the evidence, we look at traffic levels and sales data and that is saying yes, sales are going to shoot up," he said.
"Of course, retailers are looking to get involved so I think you will see a lot of activity. Whether that's a good thing or not, you really get divided opinion among shoppers and retailers, but you can't ignore it."
Yet this rise in online activity brings with it the increased risk of cyber attacks as online criminals follow the money and use sophisticated tactics to try to exploit unwitting internet users.
"Staying safe at this time of year is not as easy as it seems when it comes to purchasing items online," Mark James of security firm ESET told V3.
"We always want to save as much as possible so acting on deals as quickly as possible can sometimes be the difference between getting that mega deal or not. But we need to still keep our thinking heads screwed on tight if we want to protect our very important data and financial details."
Yet it's not all doom and gloom. Jonathan Sander, vice president of product strategy at Lieberman Software, told V3 there are a number of ways consumers can stay protected while shopping online this year.
"Scope out the deals you are interested in ahead of time. Know the websites - their URLs, their look and feel. It's much harder to be fooled by a fake site if you have a good idea of what the real site looks like," he explained.
"When you're in deal-hunting mode, you may not be thinking as much about being safe the way you normally do. Keep your wits about you.
"Don't put in private information if the site isn't secured - if it doesn't have the ‘https' at the start of its address. Look for errors about bad or broken security. Pay attention to the messages that pop up."
He added: "If it seems too good to be true online, then it's probably a scam."
Christmas crime is coming to town
As the Christmas shopping period looms large, Action Fraud has revealed that last year over £16m was to online fraudsters - a 42 percent increase on 2013.
"The most common time for victims to initially make contact with the fraudster was on Black Friday and Cyber Monday as people head online to try and bag the best festive bargains out there," states the Action Fraud report.
The City of London Police, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online have launched a national fraud prevention campaign that will be supported by police forces across the UK.
Police national coordinator for economic crime, commander Chris Greany, said: "This Christmas we want everyone to think about their online activity, especially when they are about to buy something over the internet. When it comes to online shopping if something looks like it is a great bargain it's probably poor quality, fake or doesn't even exist."
Additionally, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently revealed that cyber crime has overtaken traditional offences for the first time.
So, while you're searching for deals online, don't end up becoming another victim.
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