World Chocolate Day: From cocoa to chocolate, to cyber scams, to cybersecurity

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Delectable, decadent, and delicious, chocolate is the most popular sweet treat in the world. It’s associated with love, has mood-boosting properties and tastes like heaven. In fact, it’s so popular, there’s a special day set aside each year to pay it a special tribute. It’s called World Chocolate Day and it’s celebrated every July 7 mostly by consuming loads of chocolate (as if we need an excuse to consume chocolate), but also by baking with chocolate, sharing chocolate recipes, and giving gifts of chocolate.

From cocoa to chocolate…
The journey from cocoa to chocolate is surprisingly long. It starts with the cocoa bean, which is harvested from cacao trees. The beans are fermented, dried, winnowed, roasted, ground, and pressed and then used to make chocolate. It’s a pretty complicated process for a treat that people gobble up in seconds. And boy do we ever gobble: annual worldwide consumption of chocolate is estimated to be at least 7.2 million metric tons and the global chocolate industry is worth $103 billion dollars. Online sales are a big part of that too, especially this year with online dollar sales of chocolate seeing a 289% increase since one year ago.

to cyber scams…

Unfortunately, chocolate’s status as the world’s favorite sweet treat doesn’t grant it immunity from cyber scams. As it turns out, there have been plenty. One of the biggest took place in 2017 when a Cadbury chocolate factory was targeted by a ransomware attack that affected the company’s IT system. The attack caused the factory to grind to a halt and demanded Bitcoin payment in return for a decryption key that would return company data. It is estimated to have cost Cadbury’s parent company $140 million in lost revenue.

And then there was the series of Facebook scams against Whittaker’s Chocolate of New Zealand. One scam invited Facebook users to become taste testers whereby users were offered free chocolate in exchange for personal information. Another used the company’s name and brand to get users to provide personal information so they could take a fake survey that would supposedly give them an exclusive reward. Yet another attempted to get users to click on a link that would take them to a fake competition where they had to provide personal information in return for a chance to win $5000 in groceries.

Perhaps more worrisome, however, at least for consumers, was the 2019 cyber-attack on Russell Stover Chocolates. In this attack, malware was used to acquire data such as consumers’ first and last names, card numbers and expiration dates from payment cards used for purchases at Russel Stover retail stores. More than two dozen of their retail stores were reported to have been targeted and the attack apparently went on for nearly six months.

And there’s nothing new about cyber attacks on chocolate companies either. Hershey’s Chocolate was the target of a successful hacking attack several years back. The attack targeted a single recipe and although it did not access private consumer data at the time, it was assumed that the attack was an attempt to test for vulnerabilities in the company’s servers.

Of course, it’s not just chocolate companies that are targeted by cyber criminals. They also target consumers directly. For example, during the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, cyber criminals take advantage of the holiday and use words like “chocolate”, “Valentine”, “love” and “date” in their phishing emails and fake websites to entice users into clicking on malicious links that will download malware. Yet another Valentine’s Day cyber-attack involved dating service OkCupid. In 2019, the company was the target of a credential stuffing attack that compromised user accounts. The attack gave attackers the ability to monitor app usage, read messages and track victims’ geographic location. It is said to have put millions of women at risk.

…to cybersecurity

And now you see why cybersecurity needs to be part of the chocolate equation. Hackers are eager to take advantage of human behavior, an uptick in online traffic, holidays, pandemics as we’ve recently seen, and yes even chocolate to launch a cyber-attack. Anything that is perceived as a potential vulnerability is fair game. As a result, businesses, large and small, as well as consumers need to be vigilant and protect themselves from cyber scams. Cybersecurity protects our data, our devices, and our networks from cyber criminals, viruses, and malware. It is crucial to the security, safety and privacy of our professional and personal digital lives.

By all means indulge

By all means indulge your sweet tooth this World Chocolate Day. Enjoy every delicious bite. Go ahead, share your chocolate recipes, bake some chocolate desserts and give your taste buds a treat. Just remember that when you’re buying chocolate online, browsing the Internet for chocolate recipes, or opening tempting emails about great sales on chocolate goods, you need to be cyber secure. Fortunately, you can have your cybersecurity and eat your chocolate cake too.