8 min read

In large part, the security of an ecommerce company is the responsibility of its technical support team and ecommerce software vendors. In reality, cybercriminals often exploit the security illiteracy of the staff to hit a company. Of all the ecommerce team, web administrators are often targeted for hacker attacks as they control access to the admin panel with lots of sensitive data. Having broken into the admin panel, criminals can take over an online store, disrupt its operation, retrieve customer confidential data, steal credit card information, transfer payments to their own account, and do more harm to business owners and customers.

Online retailers contribute to the security of their company greatly when they educate web administrators where security threats can come from and what measures they can take to prevent breaches. We have summarized some key lessons below. It’s time for a quick cybersecurity class!

Lesson 1. Mind password policy

Starting with the basis of cybersecurity, we will proceed to more sophisticated rules in the lessons that follow. The importance of secure password policy may seem obvious, it’s still shocking how careless people can be with choosing a password. In e-commerce, web administrators set credentials for accessing the admin panel and they can “help” cybercriminals greatly if they neglect basic password rules.

  • Never use similar or alike passwords to log into different systems. In general, sticking to the same patterns when creating passwords (for example, using a date of birth) is risky. Typically, people have a number of personal profiles in social networks and email services. If they use identical passwords to all of them, cybercriminals can steal credentials just to one social media profile to crack the others. If employees are that negligent about accessing corporate systems, they endanger the security of the company.

Let’s outline the worst-case scenario. Criminals take advantage of the leaked database of 167 million LinkedIn accounts to hack a large online store. As soon as they see the password of its web administrator (the employment information is stated in the profile just for hackers’ convenience), they try to apply the password to get access to the admin panel. What luck! The way to break into this web store was too easy.

  • Use strong and impersonalized passwords. We need to introduce the notion of doxing to fully explain the importance of this rule. Doxing is the process of collecting pieces of information from social accounts to ultimately create a virtual profile of a person. Cybercriminals engage doxing to crack a password to an ecommerce platform by using an admin’s personal information in it. Therefore, a strong password shouldn’t contain personal details (like dates, names, age, etc.) and must consist of eight or more characters featuring a mix of letters, numbers, and unique symbols.

Lesson 2. Watch out for phishing attacks

With the wealth of employment information people leave in social accounts, hackers hold all the cards for implementing targeted, rather than bulk, phishing attacks. When planning a malicious attack on an ecommerce business, criminals can search for profiles of employees, check their position and responsibilities, and conclude what company information they have access to. In such an easy way, hackers get to know a web store administrator and follow with a series of phishing attacks.

Here are two possible scenarios of attacks:

  1. When hackers target a personal computer. Having found a LinkedIn profile of a web administrator and got a personal email, hackers can bombard them with disguised messages, for example, from bank or tax authorities. If the admin lets their guard down and clicks a malicious link, malware installs itself on their personal computer. Should they remotely log in the admin panel, hackers steal their credentials and immediately set a new password. From this moment, they take over the control over a web store.

Hackers can also go a different way. They target a personal email of the web administrator with a phishing attack and succeed in taking it over. Let’s say they have already found out a URL to the admin panel by that time. All they have to do now is to request to change the password to the panel, click the confirmation link from the admin’s email and set a new password. In the described scenario, the web administrator has made three security mistakes of using a personal email for work purposes, not changing the default admin URL, and taking the bait of a phishing email.

  1. When hackers target a work computer. Here is how a cyberattack may unfold if web administrators have been reckless to disclose a work email online. This time, hackers create a targeted malicious email related to work activities. Let’s say, the admin can get a legitimate-looking email from FedEx informing about delivery problems. Not alarmed, they open the email, click the link to know the details, and compromise the security of the web store by giving away the credentials to the admin panel to hackers.

The main mistake in dealing with phishing attacks is to expect a fraudulent email to look suspicious. However, phishers falsify emails from real companies so it can be easy to fall into the trap. Here are recommendations for ecommerce web administrators to follow:

  • Don’t use personal emails to log in to the admin panel.
  • Don’t make your work email publicly available.
  • Don’t use work email for personal purposes (e.g., for registration in social networks).
  • Watch out for links and downloads in emails. Always hover over the link prior to click it – in malicious emails, the destination URL doesn’t match the expected destination website.
  • Remember that legitimate companies never ask for your credentials, credit card details or any other sensitive information in emails.
  • Be wary of emails with urgent notifications and deadlines – hackers often try to allay suspicions by provoking anxiety and panic among their victims.
  • Engage two-step verification for an ecommerce admin panel.

Lesson 3.  Stay alert while communicating with a hosting provider

Web administrators of companies that have chosen a hosted ecommerce platform for their e-shop will need to contact the technical support of their hosting provider now and then. Here, a cybersecurity threat comes unexpected.

If hackers have compromised the security of the web hosting company, they can target its clients (e-commerce websites) as well. Admins are in serious danger if the hosting company stores their credentials unencrypted. In this case, hackers can get direct access to the admin panel of a web store. Otherwise, more sophisticated attacks are developed. Cybercriminals can mislead web administrators by speaking for tech support agents. When communicating with their hosting provider, web administrators should mind several rules to protect their confidential data and the web store from hacking.

  • Use unique email and password to log in your web hosting account. The usage of similar credentials for different work services or systems leads to a company security breach in case the hosting company has been hacked.
  • Never reveal any credentials on request of tech support agents. Having shared their password to the admin panel, web administrators can no longer authenticate themselves by using it.
  • Track your company communication with tech support. Web administrators can set email notifications to track requests from team members to the tech support and control what information is shared.

Time for an exam

As a rule, ecommerce software vendors and retailers do their best for the security of ecommerce businesses. Thus, software vendors take the major role in providing for the security of SaaS ecommerce solutions (like Shopify or Salesforce Commerce Cloud), including the security of servers, databases and the application itself. In IaaS solutions (like Magento), retailers need to put more effort in maintaining the security of the environment and system, staying current on security updates, conducting regular audits and more (you can see the full list of Magento security measures as an example). Still, cybercriminals often target company employees to hack an online store. Retailers are responsible for educating their team what security rules are compulsory to follow and how to identify malicious intents.

In our article, we have outlined the fundamental security lessons for web administrators to learn in order to protect a web store against illicit access. In short, they should be careful with personal information they publish online (in their social media profiles) and use unique credentials for different services and systems. There are no grades in our lessons – rather an admin’s contribution to the security of their company can become the evaluation of knowledge they have gained.

About the Author

Tanya Yablonskaya is Ecommerce Industry Analyst at ScienceSoft, an IT consulting and software development company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. After 2+ years of exploring the cryptocurrency and blockchain sphere, she has shifted the focus of interest to ecommerce industry. Delving into this enormous world, Tanya covers key challenges online retailers face and unveils a wealth of tools they can use to outpace competitors.

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