Cybercriminals Increase Attacks on Vulnerable Retailers As Global Supply Chain Crisis Worsens

Imperva, Inc., (@Imperva) the cybersecurity leader whose mission is to help organizations protect their data and all paths to it, releases the State of Security Within eCommerce report, with the latest findings from Imperva Research Labs. The 12-month analysis on cybersecurity risks in the retail industry suggests that the 2021 holiday shopping season will be further disrupted by cybercriminals looking to create chaos and take advantage of an unprecedented global supply chain crisis.

Increased levels of cybersecurity activity are a fundamental business risk for retailers. From website outages to online fraud, security incidents lead to loss of sales and unhappy customers. Given the widespread impact of the global supply chain crisis, the impact of a single cyber-attack on a retailer in Q4 could be devastating. Any disruption will delay shipments and could keep physical and digital store shelves empty throughout the holiday season. The unprecedented situation has reached such a fever pitch that some retailers might find themselves out of business altogether.


Retailers Experiencing Higher Levels of Security Incidents

  • Malicious Bots: Online retail remains a prime target for automated bot activity in 2021. Bots carry out an array of disruptive, and even malicious, activities on retail sites including: price and content scraping, scalping, denial of inventory and other types of online fraud.

In 2021, the volume of monthly bot attacks on retail websites rose 13%, compared to the same months of the previous year. This underscores the growing threat retailers and consumers face from bad bot activity. Imperva Research Labs finds that a majority (57%) of attacks recorded on eCommerce websites this year were carried out by bots. In comparison, bad bots made up just 33% of the total attacks on websites in all other industries in 2021.

One specific type of fraud, account takeover, is a risk for consumers who have login accounts that store their credit card or payment information on eCommerce sites. Compared to other industries, online retailers experienced a higher volume of account takeover logins (32.8%) in 2021, compared to the average logins (25.5%) across all other industries.

More worrisome, the proportion of sophisticated bad bots on retail websites reached 23.4% in 2021. This breed of bot is the hardest to stop because they’re capable of producing mouse movements and clicks that closely resemble human behavior. Sophisticated bots evade simple defenses and are responsible for account takeover, fraud or denial of inventory that makes it harder for legitimate shoppers to get the goods they want.

  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks: As the holiday shopping season commences, Imperva Research Labs is already seeing an uptick in DDoS attacks -- spiking 200% in September 2021, compared to the month prior. Part of this uptick in activity is tied to the enormous Meris botnet that has impacted organizations globally.

Throughout the past 12 months, the retail industry experienced the highest volume of application layer (layer 7) DDoS incidents per month of all industries. Layer 7 attacks are highly effective because they consume both network and server resources. Defending against application layer attacks is difficult because it requires the ability to distinguish between attack traffic and normal traffic.

The intensity of the attacks in 2021 -- measured in requests per second (RPS) -- was low, averaging a maximum of 35,000 RPS. However, the frequency of attacks suggests that cybercriminals are taking an approach that is disruptive without being detectable. The United States was the target of the significant majority (61.6%) of application layer DDoS attacks in 2021.

  • Website Attacks: Attacks on retail industry websites from Q4 2020 through the first half of 2021 were notably higher than all other industries, and were characterized by more sporadic peaks in attacks. Retail sites experienced slightly higher volumes of Data Leakage attacks (31.3%) in 2021 compared to all industries (26.9%) as eCommerce sites are prime targets because they host shoppers’ payment information or loyalty reward points.

“The 2021 holiday shopping season is shaping up to be a nightmare for both retailers and consumers,” says Peter Klimek, Director of Technology, Office of the CTO, Imperva. “With the global supply chain conditions worsening, retailers will not only struggle to get products to sell in Q4, but will face increased attacks from motivated cybercriminals who want to benefit from the chaos. Imperva Research Labs’ data underscores the need for retailers to invest in security that spans from edge to applications and APIs all the way to the data. Only by protecting all paths to data can retailers truly defend their critical systems and the consumers who rely on them. ”

Retailers Beware: More Threats Are Ahead as Attack Surface Grows

Common website functionality like chatbots, payment services and web analytics are enabled by third-party JavaScript that executes on the client side. The functionality is a necessity for eCommerce, but is increasingly vulnerable to attack. Since many of the services operate outside of the security team’s control, it’s a blindspot for organizations and a potential fraud risk for consumers. If not properly secured, the compromise of third-party JavaScript code can lead to cross-site scripting (XSS), formjacking, cryptojacking, malicious ad injection, data skimming and more -- risks that impact retailers and consumers. These highly effective evasion tactics are difficult for organizations to monitor, even when using advanced network threat inspection tools.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are essential for retailers as they improve the eCommerce experience for shoppers. APIs connect consumers to data and information they need -- like inventory availability, product search, order fulfillment tracking and more. However, APIs, like JavaScript services, are difficult to monitor and highly vulnerable to attack. In 2021, the top three types of API attacks targeting retailers are data leakage (25.7%), remote code execution (RCE) (17.2%) and cross-site scripting (XSS) (16.8%) -- all of which can generate costly breaches.

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