CyberScout

The Covid-19 Playbook: What the Pandemic Can Teach Businesses

e-skimming
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For the last few years, cybersecurity experts have been sounding the alarm on something called e-skimming. In this kind of attack, hackers intercept payment card data and personal information from e-commerce sites by exploiting the architectural complexity of those e-commerce sites. 

While there have been several major breaches that were the result of e-skimming, including Macy’s and British Airways, the bulk of these hacking campaigns have been attributed to an individual or a group of hackers called Magecart. S/he or they usually target the Magento platform, often by injecting rogue code into outdated plugins and extensions for websites.

Magento isn’t the Covid moment here. E-skimming is. 

Enter WooCommerce 

Security researchers discovered what could be a game changer in e-skimming attacks earlier this month, one that exponentially expands our collective attackable surface.

Magento has about a 12% market share and represents less than 1% of the entire assemblage of code that comprises the Internet. 

The discovery I mentioned is that a new e-skimming hack has been targeting WooCommerce, which is a far more ubiquitous online shopping plugin used in 26% of all e-commerce sites. WooCommerce is native to and powered by WordPress, a platform that represents over 35% of websites currently online. It would be hard to find a larger attackable surface on the Internet.

The threat posed by a hack targeting WooCommerce isn’t bad only because of the technology’s ubiquity. The issue has to do with who uses it. The quick answer is: Anyone. Contrast that with Magento, which is designed for enterprise-level sites that have detailed inventory needs and other layers of complexity. Magento requires installation, development, and maintenance by trained web professionals certified by the company to understand its many nuances. 

WooCommerce, on the other hand, is easy to use and install; a user with little to no experience building websites—and even less knowledge of cybersecurity best practices—can use it to get an e-commerce site up and running with ease. 

This would be a bad situation in normal times, but with the Covid-19 pandemic making many businesses more reliant on e-commerce and virtual transactions, the potential for an increase in poorly secured websites built on the fly is a matter for concern. 

That said, the bigger issue may be the nature of the hack itself. While e-skimming attacks have usually involved the compromise of vulnerable third-party software, e-skimming injects malicious code into the core source code of WooCommerce which makes it much harder to detect–particularly for non-expert site builders.

“With credit card swipers it’s common for attackers to simply include/append malicious javascript from a third-party website,” said Sucuri researcher Ben Martin, who first wrote about the attack. “The fact that the malware lodged itself within an already existing and legitimate file makes it a bit harder to detect.”

There are parallels with the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. A relatively familiar threat has surfaced in a more dangerous form that is harder to detect and has the potential to impact a significantly larger number of victims. 

Like Covid-19 in January, the current WooCommerce hack is a nascent threat, but unlike the virus, you can prepare for the threat and mitigate the potential damage. 

A good place to start is for businesses and consumers to use a system I call the 3 Ms:

Minimize the Threat: Businesses doing e-commerce need to keep their website and security software up-to-date. Those companies that have the technical know-how should run regular scans for the presence of rogue code on their websites. If they don’t have that resource in house, they would be well advised to hire a cybersecurity expert to do it for them. Most important is to practice good data hygiene, especially when relying on a remote workforce. A single login and password hooked by a phishing email could provide hackers with the necessary credentials to compromise a website, as well as its customer and payment data. 

When making payments online, consumers should use credit cards instead of debit/bank cards, which can provide hackers a direct conduit to their bank accounts.

Monitor Accounts: Keep track of your bank and credit card accounts to know as quickly as possible when something isn’t right. The most effective way to do this is to sign up for transaction monitoring—offered for free by banks, credit unions and credit card companies— which notifies you of any activity in your credit or bank accounts.

Manage the Damage: If a business falls prey to an e-skimming campaign, it’s crucial to act as quickly as possible to alert the authorities, notify consumers and identify the source of the hack. Customers affected by an e-skimming breach should immediately contact their payment card companies, request new cards, and lock down any potentially impacted accounts.

Malware and viruses are opportunistic. With more businesses relying on e-commerce to make up for shuttered physical storefronts, newly remote workers struggling to secure their home offices from cyberthreats, and more customers using e-tailers for their day-to-day shopping, the circumstances are ideal for a new strain of malware to spread.