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Security as a Major Factor for Online Consumers

Nate Vickery

There is no doubt that the number of online consumers is on a rise and that this is a trend that will not stop any time soon. Over the last couple of years, the number of digital buyers has grown by a steady 150 million each year. This number is expected to stay stable for a few more years to come. By 2020, about two billion people will be purchasing things online and making online money transactions on a regular basis.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this increase in numbers could have been even more spectacular if not for one factor that makes a world of difference for many online shoppers — security.

An Unsafe World

Online stores and other organizations that sell their services or products online have traditionally been among the most attractive targets for cyber criminals. The reasons for this are numerous and very understandable. For one, such organizations and their data systems will hold a bounty of personal financial information, including people's credit card details and more.

In 2015, we have seen a number of high-profile data breaches where consumer data was stolen. And while 2016 has seen more ransomware attacks (where no data is compromised) than anything else, it is not like it has been without its data breaches. While not all of the biggest breaches this year have involved online stores or service providers, they were definitely among the victims.

For example, in June this year, Acer suffered a serious data breach when personal details (including credit card numbers) of more than 30,000 of their U.S. and Canadian online shoppers were stolen. The fault was with a third-party payment processing system, but that does not in any way absolve Acer of responsibility.

Still, it is a perfect example of how even the world's biggest and most technologically advanced companies can be compromised just like anyone else.

How the Consumers See It

It is really not that difficult to understand why many of the people are discouraged from shopping or purchasing anything online when they hear stories like this. We live in an age of information and people are aware of how easily their data can be accessed by people and organizations that should never be in possession of such data.

Back in the early days of online shopping, a paper was published in the Journal of Business Research which showed that the financial risk was the most commonly perceived risk on the behalf of online shoppers (followed by product performance and time/convenience risks). More recently, Connexity did a survey which found out that almost two thirds of American online shoppers are concerned about how the companies they do business with are securing their data. Other research also reinforces this view where security has become one of the main concerns for online shoppers.

It is not just the problem of data security. For example, there are certain online shopping models such as online marketplaces which come with their own slew of potential problems. Besides having to handle data, such websites and services also need to ensure that both the sellers and the buyers will honor the agreement.

How It Is Being Handled

At times, it feels that ecommerce sellers, marketplace operators and companies that sell their services online are always a step behind. In many ways, they are. This is mostly due to the very nature of cybersecurity solutions that are in the vast majority of cases reactive, i.e. they are introduced when vulnerabilities are discovered.

The good news is that the majority of online service providers and shops are still secure. Cybersecurity companies around the world are working on providing the best security measures to such companies and they are doing a great job. Furthermore, most governments have already started initiatives to keep online consumers secure and they are insisting on cooperation to reduce the risks.

Ecommerce business owners and those who do business online are also constantly looking for ways to improve their security and minimize the chances of suffering data breaches.

We are also seeing a trend where more and more companies, services and merchants are reporting their security breaches and reporting fraud in order to provide more information that will, in future, help reduce the number of attacks and their success rate.

Closing Word

It is difficult to say whether online shopping and online money transactions will ever be 100% safe. Still, there are definitely a few trends that we can see and that make us optimistic in this regard, cooperation most of all. Until this day comes, be smart when shopping online.

By Nate Vickery, Consultant
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Related topics: Cybercrime, Cybersecurity, Web
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