Four Things to Look Out for This Valentine’s Day

14 February 2017

Valentines Day Gifts

Consumers are increasingly moving to the Internet for their holiday purchases—and Valentine’s Day is no exception. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2017, almost 30% of consumers planned to shop online, which is double the response from 2010 (16.3%).

The prevalence and convenience of online shopping is not only enticing to consumers searching for the best deal on bouquets. Threat actors celebrate Valentine’s Day too—yet they are not hoping for flowers or chocolate. It is typical for actors to escalate cyber attacks during seasonal events when individual victims are often unwary and most vulnerable. These attacks target both individual users and online vendors, exploiting known vulnerabilities to gain access to personal information or extort money from victims.

Your heart may be vulnerable this Valentine’s Day, but your online presence should not be. Here are four ‘gifts’ you should look out for Valentine’s Day:

1. Not-So-True Love

How do you know when it is true love? Chances are, if your digital ‘loved one’ asks for money—they are not real. Romance scams have become increasingly more common, with the UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau reporting over 3,800 victims in 2016 alone. These scams often take place via dating websites and apps. Heartless scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners by gaining their affection and using that emotional vulnerability to extort money, often in large sums.

2. Ransom Notes

Rather than love notes, in 2016, over 30 florists received ransom notes demanding payment in exchange for the cessation of targeted denial-of-service campaigns against their websites.  There is no doubt that being offline during one of the busiest seasons of the year can lead to huge losses in revenue for florists and other e-tailers. Under pressure, these ransom demands are more likely to be met—something criminal actors are counting on. With the release of the Mirai botnet source code online, it is likely that we will see more and more high-volume denial of service attacks against retailers. 

Other actors have targeted unauthenticated MongoDB installations and replaced their contents with a ransom note and payment instructions. This new extortion method was first observed on December 20, 2016 and continues to affect open MongoDB installations at time of writing.

3. Malicious Advertisements

Attackers can use web and mobile advertisements as a means of distributing malware by luring victims with one-time offers and bargain prices. These advertisements usually involve an attacker injecting malicious code into a legitimate advert which will either download malware directly onto a victim’s machine or redirect visitors to a website that then distributes malware. Online dating sites have previously carried such advertisements. In 2015, dating sites PlentyofFish and Match.com both delivered fake ads to their users, leading Match to briefly suspend adverts on their UK website. 

4. Phishing emails and pages

Phishing emails are not always as easy to spot as the ones with the subject lines advertising singles in your area. Attackers will try to trick users through fake emails and websites that at first glance, look legitimate. These sites can be used to steal victims’ credentials or to distribute malware.

Researchers identified a convincing phishing campaign that combines social engineering and technical attacks to target Gmail users. The malicious email, which originates from a compromised account of a known contact is tailored to contain a subject line and an image relevant to both the recipient and the sender. However, when the image is clicked, a new tab opens prompting the user to re-enter their credentials. Once compromised, attackers used the victim’s own contact lists and used them to conduct further attacks. 

Organizations and individuals ought to be aware of these four tactics used by adversaries and take steps to protect their data, infrastructure, employees and customers.