Running an ecommerce website means you’re responsible for more than making money from online transactions. You’re also responsible for protecting the sensitive data that your customers upload to your online store. The internet abounds with hackers and thieves who use cyber attacks to steal customers’ credit card data, or worse—their entire identity.
The ecommerce security measures taken by online businesses are the first line of defense against online threats. Here’s a rundown of common ecommerce security threats and the measures you can take to protect sensitive customer information.
What is ecommerce security?
Ecommerce security refers to the measures and protocols implemented to safeguard online business transactions and protect sensitive information. It centers around the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data involved in online purchases, online payments, and communications on ecommerce websites.
Standard ecommerce security measures may include encryption, secure payment gateways, multi-factor authentication, SSL certificates, firewall systems, regular security audits, and compliance with industry standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Ecommerce business owners use a combination of measures to protect customer data from unauthorized access, data breaches, phishing attacks, malicious software, financial fraud, and identity theft.
Elements of ecommerce security
Ecommerce website security centers around four core tenets, each of which addresses specific security threats to ecommerce businesses and their customers:
Privacy on an ecommerce platform refers to protecting sensitive information exchanged during online transactions. An ecommerce store can encrypt data so that only authorized parties can access and understand it. Encryption can block unauthorized access to names, addresses, credit card data, and other confidential information that shoppers share with ecommerce companies.
Integrity ensures that data remains unchanged and unaltered during transmission or storage on a web server. Ecommerce integrity measures include data checksums, which are used to detect errors during data transmission or storage; hashing, which creates a unique identifier (hash) for a set of data; and digital signatures, which are created using a private key to encrypt a hash. All of these measures verify the integrity of online data, ensuring that it hasn’t been altered without authorization.
Online thieves can impersonate both buyers and sellers. Payment authentication fights this by validating the identity of parties involved in an ecommerce transaction. Common authentication mechanisms include passwords, biometrics, two-factor authentication, and digital certificates. All of these combine to protect customer information from unauthorized third parties.
Some financial fraud occurs when buyers and sellers deny their participation in an online transaction. Non-repudiation is designed to prevent this. It ensures that a party cannot deny they participated in a transaction, nor deny the authenticity of their communication. Ecommerce platforms use digital signatures and audit trails to establish non-repudiation, providing evidence that messages were sent and received, and payments were processed.
Common ecommerce security threats
- Brute force attacks
- DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks
- Data breaches
- Payment fraud
- Malware and ransomware
- Supply chain attacks
- API attacks
Every day, cyber criminals attempt to hack into computer systems, bypass security controls, and gain access to customers’ data, including Social Security numbers and credit card details. Here are eight of the most common security threats to an ecommerce company:
Brute force attacks
Brute force attacks involve repeated, rapid attempts to guess passwords or encryption keys. Attackers use automated tools to try numerous combinations until they gain access to an account, compromising sensitive data or resources. In ecommerce, this can lead to unauthorized access to customer accounts or administrative portals.
DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks
DDoS attacks flood a website or service with excessive traffic, overwhelming its capacity and causing it to become unavailable to legitimate users. DDoS attacks are often used as a smokescreen to divert the attention of security teams. While IT professionals focus on mitigating the DDoS attack, attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in other areas of the system, leading to potential data breaches.
As such, DDoS attackers may notably target ecommerce sites that they suspect are storing large troves of financial data, like credit card numbers and bank routing numbers.
Data breaches occur when someone gains unauthorized access to sensitive customer data, like credit card information, personal details, or login credentials. A data breach can occur due to system vulnerabilities, hacking, or insider threats, leading to massive financial losses and an erosion of trust.
Payment fraud encompasses stolen credit card information, identity theft, or the manipulation of payment processes to conduct unauthorized transactions, leading to financial losses for both the ecommerce business and its customers.
Malware and ransomware
Malicious code known as malware and ransomware can infect ecommerce platforms, compromising data security, stealing information, or locking systems until a ransom is paid. These threats can disrupt operations and cause substantial financial and reputational damage.
Phishing involves acquiring sensitive information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. In the ecommerce space, attackers use deceptive emails, messages, or websites to convince users they’re dealing with legitimate online stores. Phishing schemes trick users into revealing personal or financial information, which they then exploit for unauthorized access or fraud.
Supply chain attacks
Ecommerce platforms often rely on third-party services or suppliers. Attackers can target vulnerabilities in these interconnected systems to gain access to the ecommerce platform itself. They can then raid its databases or make changes to the ecommerce website without detection. Compromising any element in the supply chain can lead to data breaches or system compromises.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) facilitate communication and data exchanges between different systems. They’re commonly used for third-party integrations when a piece of external software runs in the foreground of an ecommerce website; for instance, the various Shopify App Store programs run atop a Shopify storefront. If APIs on an ecommerce site are not adequately secured, they can become vulnerable points of entry for attackers seeking unauthorized access to sensitive data and functionalities.
Best practices for ecommerce security
- Implement multilayer security
- Make use of SSL certificates
- Guard against cross-site scripting (XSS)
- Comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines
- Regularly update and patch computer systems
- Use anti-malware software
- Enhance login security
- Use trusted payment services
Despite a sea of bad actors targeting ecommerce websites, ecommerce business owners have plenty of tools at their disposal to preempt any website security issues. Here are eight best practices for securing your ecommerce website:
Implement multilayer security
Utilize a combination of security protocols such as firewalls (network security systems that monitor traffic to identify and block threats), intrusion detection systems, and regular security audits to create a robust defense against a threat like an SQL injection, which inserts malicious structured query language code into input fields or parameters of a web form or URL.
Make use of SSL certificates
An SSL certificate establishes an encrypted connection between the user’s browser and your website. This ensures data transmitted—including login credentials and payment information—is encrypted and protected from interception.
Guard against cross-site scripting (XSS)
Regularly sanitize user inputs, which means removing any superfluous code added to your website by past site administrators or contractors. Validate data, which helps prevent errors by making sure that the data is in the right format and follows expected patterns. This helps prevent malicious scripts from being injected into your website, which could compromise user data or lead to successful cyber attacks.
Comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines
Ensure your ecommerce platform complies with GDPR guidelines, a European Union standard that covers, among other things, user data handling, consent, and privacy. This helps in safeguarding customer information and avoiding legal issues. GDPR compliance is mandatory for European sellers, and while not obligatory, it is a wise approach for sellers located elsewhere.
Regularly update and patch computer systems
Stay updated with security patches and software updates to address vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit to gain access to sensitive information, such as stolen credit card information.
Use anti-malware software
Employ robust anti-malware solutions to continuously monitor for and prevent malware infections that could compromise your ecommerce site and customer data.
Enhance login security
Implement strong password policies, enable multifactor authentication (MFA), and consider limiting login attempts to protect against unauthorized access to user accounts.
Use trusted payment services
Partner with secure and trusted payment service providers that comply with industry standards for handling payment information. This helps protect customers’ sensitive financial data when they purchase goods and services online. Shopify Payments, for example, is PCI-compliant, encrypts payment data, and supports 3D Secure checkouts.
Ecommerce security FAQ
What is the biggest risk of ecommerce?
The biggest security risk ecommerce ventures should watch out for is the potential compromising of sensitive customer data, including payment information, due to data breaches or unauthorized access.
Are ecommerce sites required to comply with security standards?
Yes, ecommerce sites are required to comply with security standards to safeguard customer data and ensure secure transactions. Examples include the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines.
What are Shopify’s security measures?
Shopify provides robust security measures, including SSL encryption, protection against DDoS attacks, and adherence to PCI DSS compliance standards throughout the platform.