Tony Limrick explains how fraudsters can easily steal website images and logos from retail brands to build their own fake sites

The number of cyber attacks against UK companies is on the increase. Last year, it was calculated that the average cost of cyber crime for a large organisation in the UK was £4.1 million a year. Recent research from the Federation of Small Businesses found that two thirds of SMEs have fallen victim to cyber crime in the past two years, costing the UK economy £5.26 billion.

Within the retail sector, the British Retail Consortium also reported earlier this year that cyber attacks now account for a third (36 per cent) of the cost of crime against retailers.

While it’s an issue being taken seriously at national level – in November, the UK government launched its National Cyber Security Strategy – are retailers doing enough to protect their assets?

At base level, no. Many retailers are still mainly focussing on high-level protection measures to protect sensitive customer data, which while absolutely essential has to be accompanied by protective steps at a lower level too.

Web scraping

Most websites can be ‘scraped’ within a matter of seconds, meaning images and logos can easily be extracted manually or using automated software. From use of the simple ‘right-click’ facility to lift images to sophisticated web-scrapers that are freely available on the internet, criminals can download as many images from genuine sites they need to give them the collateral to build fake websites.

This is a dangerous situation for retailers that value their brand integrity and the relationship they build with customers since many of these fraudulent sites look extremely authentic.

At present, once an image has been removed from a genuine website, it is extremely difficult, and often impossible, even with current search tools, to find out who is using those brand images, where they are being used and for what purpose, legitimate or otherwise.

There is virtually no control or no accountability and no warnings in place of such activity taking place.

This problem is exacerbated for retailers because fraudsters are able to create a replica of a trusted site and simulate legitimate products. Consumers are then scammed by being sold much poorer quality imitation products, or nothing at all.

Research carried out by ANEC – a European consumer organisation – found that seven in 10 people say they are more likely to use a website with a trust-mark label or logo and many retailers follow this guidance. However, these trust marks can be just as easily stolen, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish the genuine sites from the fakes.

 What can retailers do?

Retailers should be taking steps to secure their logos, product images and payment pages to ensure they cannot easily be copied by criminals looking to sell counterfeit products online.

One way to protect the intellectual property of images and help prevent the creation of fake websites is to use an image protection tool. This will enable retailers to control from the centre the accurate distribution, removal and syncing of brand images to and from targeted users throughout the global distribution chain.

This, in turn, allows control over image copying and therefore protects retailers from having their intellectual property stolen.

Importantly, this also protects the customer too since it provides an assurance to them that sellers are authorised to sell certain products.

Retailers should also look at other simple measures to defend themselves against hackers and fraud. These include requiring customers to create strong passwords, using a secure connection for online checkout, following industry standards and becoming validated with reputable authentication companies.

To date, it’s the poor consumer that has been left to discover which websites are real and which are fake. Now it is time that retailers took more of a prominent role in tackling the problem.

Retailers that value their online presence need to lead from the front to protect all of their intellectual property and, of course, the customer experience and brand integrity.

Tony Limrick is Sales and Marketing Consultant at AFFIRMFIRST