Cyber Monday and The Future Threat of Economic Espionage


Based on recent predictions by numerous market analysts, Cyber Monday, the on-line equivalent of the Black Friday shopping event, is well on its way to overtake physical retail sales numbers in coming years. According to a recent article by Bloomberg, cyber Monday online sales were up approximately twenty percent this year, with many consumers preferring the comfort of their couch to fighting the crowds in physical stores, which are synonymous with Black Friday sales. On a related note, sales on Black Friday itself saw their first decline since 2009 this year.

Post-9/11, I was involved in a number of think-tank activities, to review what future attacks might “look like”, including how Cyber may play a future role in state and terrorist sponsored attacks against the United States. While seemingly unrelated at the time, one of the more popular scenarios discussed amongst physical security folks, related to economic espionage, targeting consumer outlets. The scenario was pretty straightforward, terror group X sends individuals/cells with small arms into malls in every major city in the country, creating mass panic, causing retail store purchases to slow to a point at which some of Americas largest outlets are hemorrhaging money, causing harm to the national economy.
According to the National Retail Federation, per ShopperTrak data (which counts foot traffic at malls) Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year. Let’s now consider the life in five, perhaps ten years time, where the busiest retail day of the year is no longer in stores, but online.

For the well-equipped and motivated adversary, this no longer becomes a case of frightening customers from the storefront it’s a simple case of denying them access. As we have seen with many of Americas largest financial institutions, denial of service attacks remain an effective method, which has evidently become the tactic of choice for at least one nation states cyber offensive. Taking into consideration the increase in popularity of Cyber Monday, the dollars invested by online sellers in preparing for and supporting the event (think marketing, planning, infrastructure, increased stock purchases, warehousing etc.), distributed across an economy which is growingly reliant on the event to make its Q4 numbers, could result in a significant event which negatively impacts consumer confidence, the financial stability of major retailers and possibly in turn, the US economy. Predicting the potential short and long term impacts of such an event is a job for economists, however all signs point to such an event becoming a very real possibility, which those depending on online retail should be seriously contemplating now, not attempting to handle as it happens, unlike many of the financial institutions earlier this year.

Tom Parker is CTO at FusionX

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