Lush Site Hacked, Chain Posts A Message To Attackers

When the U.K.'s Lush cosmetics chain—with more than 650 stores in more than 40 countries—was attacked by cyberthieves, it ultimately had to take down its core site and replace it with a limited new site. But Lush first decided to post a note to its attackers on its homepage.

"To the hacker," the homepage missive began. "If you are reading this, our Web team would like to say that your talents are formidable. We would like to offer you a job, were it not for the fact that your morals are clearly not compatible with ours or our customers." This is right out of a spy movie, where the hero always compliments his abductor before insulting him. ("This is a brilliantly hidden lab and your guards are impressive. But I can't join your plot of evil because you're a low-life scum. Sorry about that. Continue the torture, please.")

The hacker note has been posted since about January 21, when the chain promised to launch "a completely separate, temporary Web site" and to do so "in a few days, initially taking PayPal payments only."

Dealing with either a D-DOS (trying to shut down the site as a goal) or a cyberthief (trying to steal information) attack is notoriously tricky. At best, a site can defend against the attack until the attackers change their attack method and regain access, forcing the site to step up defenses. If the attacks continue, the site might have to delay new services or limit existing ones. Some D-DOS defenses, for example, use techniques to filter out malicious traffic. But that can prevent some customers from getting through.

In Lush's case, the company decided that the best course was the expensive "abandon current site and start over" method. From Lush's homepage message: "We are very sorry to confirm that our Web site has been the victim of hackers. Twenty-four-hour security monitoring has shown us that we were still being targeted and there were continuing attempts to re-enter. We refuse to put our customers at risk of another entry so have decided to completely retire this version of our Web site."

The site then asked customers to check banking records. "For complete peace of mind, we would like all customers who placed online orders with us between 4th Oct 2010 and today, 20th Jan 2011, to contact their banks for advice as their card details may have been compromised. An Oct to Jan timeframe was decided because we wish it to cover a larger period than we think has been exposed. We hope we are erring very much on the side of caution. We would rather notify more customers than required, than find out in retrospect that we had narrowed it and missed people. Some of our customers have already experienced unauthorized use of their cards, so we still urge all customers in the above period to check statements and talk to their banks for advice."

It's a sad state of reality when retailers can be chased from their rightful virtual storefronts by gangs of cyber hoodlums. But when a chain is as upfront about the situation as Lush is apparently being, most customers are likely to stay loyal. Heck, they may even pick up a few new consumers impressed with their attitude.

That said, Lush has been criticized by some customers for not having gone public with the attack details earlier.