Wednesday 27 November 2019

Get a Deal - Not a Steal - This Black Friday

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Written by Stuart Peck

Cyber attacks on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are becoming increasingly common; it’s the one time of the year where cyber criminals really do follow the money. With the increased focus on grabbing an amazing deal, it’s easy to get caught up in the bargain hunting without realising the risks.

Shoppers in the UK spent £1.4 billion on Black Friday last year and this is only expected to increase in 2019; with such a large influx of online transactions comes an increased attack surface, and cyber criminals will be banking on weaknesses in our online security. However, this article discusses the top 3 things you can do protect yourself and shop safely online.

1) Gone Phishing

Phishing remains a highly effective way for a cyber criminal to target both companies and consumers, with credential stealing and malware delivery being the most common objectives.

During Black Friday, however, what might look suspicious on any other day may get lost amongst the legitimate deals - it is always tempting in the spirit of bargain hunting to go for that one offer that seems too good to be true – and it’s that split-second decision that could lead to a compromise of your machine or an attacker gaining access to your credentials and other sensitive information.

Phishing In Practice: A Real Life Example

Cyber criminals will use social engineering techniques which rely on distraction, fear, and urgency, and during this time it is vital that we all be mindful of failed package delivery emails, offers too good to be true, fake shipping invoices, and the like. Avoid clicking links and opening attachments unless you are explicitly expecting them. The reality is that phishing increases dramatically before and during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so be extra vigilant.

Top tip: create login bookmarks of all the shopping sites you may use over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and use these instead of gambling by clicking links in emails, or use a password manager such as 1Password, Keeper, etc.

2) Reusing Passwords Online

Cyber criminals are constantly exploiting weaknesses in passwords for online accounts - in a lot of cases, passwords which we think are secret, are not. There are over 11 billion leaked or stolen credentials available to attackers for a small fee, or in most cases, free.

These are all from hacks (and leaks), from third party social media, ecommerce, dating, business applications, etc. The usernames and passwords are collected and usually dumped online at some point after a breach. And, given that the average person has over 24 online accounts, it’s very taxing trying to create a unique password for each one, meaning that most people reuse a variant of a password they like. You can check your own exposure of where your passwords might be exposed by using

Combine this with the amount of passwords that are harvested by attackers, it’s highly likely the password you are currently using for your email, Amazon, or social media is in one of these dumps.
The best way to combat this is to use a password manager which will help you generate a strong, random and unique password for each of your online accounts, only requiring you to remember one password - the master password for the password manager. There are plenty of good password managers; offline is the most secure but also least user friendly, online is the least secure option, but more secure than reusing the same password across sites.

It is also vital that you protect online accounts further by using multi factor authentication (MFA). This is usually a random code that either gets generated through a mobile app (Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator), or via a code sent to your mobile, which is required on top of a username and password combination.

This will prevent attackers from logging into your accounts even if they know your password, as they need the token generated by MFA. This is another layer of security and will make it harder - not impossible - for a determined attacker. There is an increased trend of attackers phishing for MFA tokens, especially for email accounts, so be mindful and refer to point one about clicking links.

3) Safe Browsing Habits

There will be plenty of adverts and offers on the sites you visit over the next few days; most of these will be legitimate, however, the risks of visiting a bogus site are heightened, so being mindful of this is key. Attackers will push out malicious adverts over legitimate channels in the hope of landing unsuspecting bargain hunters, either to steal credentials or to deliver malware to steal sensitive information or credit card details.

The safest way to prevent this is to use the legitimate mobile apps for online retailers, rather than running the risk of hitting a phishing site. If this is not an option, then avoid the temptation of clicking on adverts over this period or, better yet, block them altogether. For Black Friday and Cyber Monday use the Brave browser for your online shopping, which focuses on protecting your privacy by blocking cookie trackers and adverts, and potential unwanted content.

Finally, check the site you are on; a website can still be a fake website if it has a padlock and/or ‘https’ in the address bar. These simply mean data is encrypted when transferred over the internet, not that the website itself is trustworthy. Check the address, keep your eye out for anything unusual and, if in doubt, don’t enter any information and leave the site.


In summary, if you rely on the principles of Verify First then Trust, then many social engineering attacks can be prevented. Like the old saying - if it’s too good to be true then it probably is, but with a sting in the tail.