Holiday hacking: Cyber-attacks on Cyber Monday

Justin Fier, Director of Cyber Intelligence | Friday November 18, 2016

Every year, on the first Monday after Thanksgiving, two things happen. First, online retailers slash prices and the internet goes on its annual shopping spree. And second, criminals swarm on unwitting businesses, launching large-scale hacks and clever scams.

Digital sales reach up to $3.19 billion on Cyber Monday. Amazon alone generated 36 percent of all online sales last Cyber Monday, accounting for an estimated $1 billion. With so much money changing hands over the internet, the ramifications of a cyber-attack would be huge.

What happens if a DDoS attack hits Amazon’s service provider? The website goes down. Digital sales grind to a halt. And millions in revenue go down the drain as they watch their most lucrative day of the year pass them by.

On Cyber Monday 2014, a DNS provider was hit with a fairly rudimentary DDoS attack. While it lacked the large-scale impact of today’s Mirai botnets, their clients lost vital business. In another holiday attack, criminals hacked Target and stole sensitive data from 70 million customers.

Disruption and data-theft have become tried-and-true tactics for criminals on Cyber Monday. And with Mirai botnets capable of launching massive DDoS attacks, these could become even more devastating, reminiscent of the Dyn attack but with more far-reaching monetary consequences.

However, in their current form, DDoS attacks are still relatively simple. They work by exploiting a fundamental flaw in the Internet. But what if this Cyber Monday, a highly targeted and sophisticated DDoS attack took an organization hostage? By overwhelming a company — or a series of companies — with junk traffic, an attacker could demand a large sum to stop the attack. Whether to manipulate the market or for financial gain, all signs point toward increasingly advanced DDoS attacks.

The implications for this Cyber Monday are clear — businesses need to be prepared. From DDoS to ransomware, every organization can expect to be hit. Companies should bolster their cyber defense well before the holidays, because in security, as in life, you should expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

To learn more about the types of attack you could face, check out my thoughts on DDoS and the IoT.

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About the authors

Justin Fier

Justin Fier is the Director for Cyber Intelligence & Analytics at Darktrace, based in Washington D.C. Justin is one of the US’s leading cyber intelligence experts, and his insights have been widely reported in leading media outlets, including Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Washington Post, and VICELAND. With over 10 years of experience in cyber defense, Justin has supported various elements in the US intelligence community, holding mission-critical security roles with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and Abraxas. Justin is also a highly-skilled technical specialist, and works with Darktrace’s strategic global customers on threat analysis, defensive cyber operations, protecting IoT, and machine learning.

Dave Palmer

Dave Palmer is the Director of Technology at Darktrace, overseeing the mathematics and engineering teams and project strategies. With over ten years of experience at the forefront of government intelligence operations, Palmer has worked across UK intelligence agencies GCHQ & MI5, where he delivered mission-critical infrastructure services, including the replacement and security of entire global networks, the development of operational internet capabilities and the management of critical disaster recovery incidents. He holds a first-class degree in Computer Science and Software Engineering from the University of Birmingham.

Andrew Tsonchev

Andrew advises Darktrace’s strategic Fortune 500 customers on advanced threat detection, machine learning and autonomous response. He has a technical background in threat analysis and research, and holds a first-class degree in physics from Oxford University and a first-class degree in philosophy from King’s College London. He was most recently featured on BBC World, BBC Morning and Al Jazeera to comment on the news regarding the GRU.

Max Heinemeyer

Max is a cyber security expert with over eight years’ experience in the field specializing in network monitoring and offensive security. At Darktrace, Max works with strategic customers to help them investigate and respond to threats as well as overseeing the cyber security analyst team in the Cambridge UK headquarters. Prior to his current role, Max led the Threat and Vulnerability Management department for Hewlett-Packard in Central Europe. He was a member of the German Chaos Computer Club, working as a white hat hacker in penetration testing and red teaming engagements. Max holds a MSc from the University of Duisburg-Essen and a BSc from the Cooperative State University Stuttgart in International Business Information Systems.