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Drawing Security-Spooked Customers Into the E-Commerce Fold

By Vivian Wagner
Nov 11, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Many consumers are still afraid of shopping online, and it's not hard to see why, with reports of fraud, identity theft, data loss and other security breaches regularly making the news. The fact is, though, online shopping is safer than ever before, and new and emerging security technologies, methods and standards are being implemented every day.

Drawing Security-Spooked Customers Into the E-Commerce Fold

Reality is one thing -- perception is another. How can consumers be convinced that it's safe to shop online? Turning an online window shopper into someone who actually makes a purchase comes down to several factors: educating consumers about safe online shopping; making a site as trustworthy and secure as possible; and marketing the security features a site offers.

Educating Consumers

Online security is often a matter of customers being smart about what they do and how they do it, and businesses can do much to make online window shoppers comfortable enough to make a purchase.

One way businesses might attract and win over e-commerce-shy customers is by devoting a portion of their site to safe online shopping tips. This page might include simple things that consumers can do to protect their safety, such as updating their browsers and making sure they're shopping at reputable sites.

"There are a number of things consumers can do, and many of them are free," Michael Sutton, VP of security research with Zscaler, told the E-Commerce Times.

These include simple actions like updating browsers to the most current versions, which usually include antiphishing and other security features.

"It's very important that users are using up-to-date Web browsers," Sutton told the E-Commerce Times. "It's worth the five-to-10 minutes of your time to update your browser."

He also says that though it's not a cure-all, anti-virus software should be standard on all computers.

"Antivirus, antispyware is still an important piece," Sutton said. "You don't want to be running a desktop without it."

It's important to download all patches for operating systems, browsers and other software.

"Patching is absolutely critical," emphasized Sutton. "Most attacks take advantage of known vulnerabilities, but consumers tend to be slow at patches. Patching is a very critical piece of making sure you are protected."

A final step online shoppers can take is to use a service -- such as OpenDNS -- that monitors Web traffic and blocks known malicious sites.

Providing tips such as these to consumers who visit your site can help them to understand how much of their online security is in their own hands. It can also create a sense of goodwill. Customers will be happy to learn these tips, and may be inclined to give you their online business.

Developing Trust

Another thing that businesses can do to give consumers more confidence is to work with a provider that researches the security of Web sites and issues certifications of authenticity. Sites certified by VeriSign, for instance, feature its distinctive check mark, which is an easy thing for consumers to look for when they're evaluating the security of a site and concerned with phishing scams.

"That check mark exists there as a way for the consumer to know a site is who it says it is," Tim Callan, VP of product marketing for VeriSign, told the E-Commerce Times. "It's a great thing for consumers to look for. It's highly reliable."

It is possible that a fraudulent enterprise could lift the logo to use on its site, but VeriSign's crawlers regularly prowl the Internet, looking for misuse and abuse of the checkmark sign.

For an even higher level of consumer confidence, VeriSign offers an extended validation SSL certificate. Sites with this extended validation will, depending on the browser a consumer uses, have a green, glowing address bar or green text with the name of the company on the right side of the address bar.

"You, as a user, can look for that -- and you can rely on the fact that this is accurate information and that the site is who the consumer thinks it is," Callan said. "That's a powerful asset for the consumer."

Online merchants and companies pay companies like VeriSign for this authentification service, and VeriSign has ongoing reauthentification processes to ensure the identities of the sites it certifies.

Marketing Security

A prevalent concern among potential online shoppers is data loss, which refers to the exposure of credit card numbers, names, addresses, and other data that online merchants routinely gather from people who shop on their sites.

New technologies, such as end-to-end encryption, are helping to ensure the safety of consumer information as it travels over the network, and businesses are increasingly investing in such technologies.

"All of the players in the market are taking this really seriously," said Wasim Ahmad, VP of marketing with Voltage Security. "We have some very innovative technologies for protecting that data."

All of the investment in the world, however, won't encourage e-commerce-shy customers if they don't know these technologies are in place. Thus, an important step in the process of making sites more secure is to develop a marketing strategy to let consumers know what kinds of security measures are being taken to protect their data, Ahmad told the E-Commerce Times.

Communication, after all, is vital to gaining confidence and trust.

Which type of cybersecurity threat concerns you the most?
Theft of my personal assets
A serious privacy invasion affecting me or a close family member
Reputation damage affecting my business
Child pornography, drug and weapon sales, and other Dark Web crimes
Activities that might compromise free and fair elections
A life-threatening attack on the nation's infrastructure