Residential crime tends to spike over the holidays, but you also have to worry about your cyber security, in the form of identity theft, phony charities, and other potential pitfalls of our increasingly online lives. Of course, there is also the real risk of sharing too much information (social media “TMI”), as we post about our holiday trips, parties, and other plans in ways that draw the eager attention of potential intruders.
Today’s blog shares some great advice for safer online shopping – in preparation for a week from today: Cyber Monday. Some estimates place the number of post-Thanksgiving online shoppers at more than 120 million people. That’s a huge number of online transactions – and an equally huge opportunity for the criminally inclined to rip you off.
Consumers are already doing more of their holiday shopping online. Even so, Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is expected to be the busiest online shopping day of the season as retailers roll out a number of specials to take advantage of that. But be warned: scammers and hackers are gearing up for Cyber Monday as well, and one expert says Cyber Monday may be the most dangerous day of the year when it comes to having your identity stolen. “The best way to be secure on Cyber Monday? Yank the plug out,” said Bob Bunge, a cyber-security specialist and engineering professor at DeVry University.
Christmas for scammers
While it's true that scammers run their “phishing” attacks all year long, Bunge and other security experts he consults with have seen the intensity level build since the start of the holiday shopping season, especially since so many retailers are jumping the security gun on Black Friday and offering online deals now. But he expects activity to spike on Cyber Monday. “The reason is consumers are expecting to get a bunch of screaming good offers from retailers they've done business with,” Bunge said. “It's the one day of the year that if Walmart says they'll sell you a TV for $10 you might be inclined to believe it. Only it isn't Walmart making the offer.” Instead, it could be someone in another country hoping you will click on the link in their email, which could either send you to a bogus site and entice you into revealing sensitive information, or download nasty malware to your computer – or both.
Avoid wireless connections
Bunge offers a few tips for staying out of trouble on Cyber Monday – short of unplugging your computer for the day. First, he says, avoid making online purchases using a wireless connection. "Especially avoid using wireless connections in a public space, like an airport or a coffee shop,” he said. “I was at a conference today where they had an open Wi-Fi connection for everyone to use. Well, that's great but it's not a place to do your shopping.”
Home networks are a bit safer, assuming you have good security on your connection. But even then Bunge says you are not completely safe, especially if you live in a high-density area where many of your neighbors can pick up your wireless network. If one of your neighbors happens to be a skilled hacker who can get past your security, you're vulnerable. Better, he says, to place your orders with a computer hard-wired to your network. “All things being equal, wired beats wireless when it comes to the security of your connection,” Bunge said.
Other tips we’ve previously read on other web sites include the following:
1. Search for signs of approval. Trust marks, such as the Norton Secured Seal, show the retailer has been verified and the site is likely free from malware. Also, look for URL to change from Http to Https—the "s" on the end for secure—and the color green in your browser address bar to show a secure site. Always look for either of those before entering your personal information when online shopping.
For example, the FrontPoint site shows the “TRUSTe” logo for certified privacy – a mark you can certainly rely on. And yes – when you order online from FrontPoint, you will see the “s” after the “http” when you get to the actual ordering page. But remember, you’ll probably want to speak with a FrontPoint Security Consultant first, to make sure your system is properly customized for your home.
2. Be smart about your password and personal information. When holiday shopping for the first time on a site, you may asked to register, and create a user name and password. When doing the latter, remember: "password" is not an acceptable password. Pay particular attention to the passwords for your email, social networking and online banking accounts, making them as complex and unique as you can. Also, avoid storing your credit card information on retailer websites.
You would be amazed how many people use “Password” as the password for an online identity – or just a simple variation of their name. You need to be smarter than the cyber thieves!
3. Avoid spam's hidden surprises. Not all spam is harmless; some spam carries viruses and other malicious threats that may harm your computer. With holiday headlines like "Insane Cyber Monday Deals: 80% off!" or even more subtle but seasonal captions like "Information about your shipped package!," you may be tempted to click, but you'd be wise to junk them instead. Always be cautious of any emails you receive from unknown recipients or that seem just a bit too generous.
And be sure to take care when you receive suspicious offer emails from sources you do trust – it’s entirely possible that they have been hacked, and are spamming you… before they even know it.
4. Be secure on mobile devices, too. Threats on mobile devices are on the rise, and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Also, while holiday shopping for apps, beware that many mobile apps now feature unwanted aggressive advertising known as "madware" or mobile adware. Use a security solution and adware tool for your smartphones, tablets, laptops and home computers to keep you protected, whether you're shopping at home or on the move.
FrontPoint cares about your physical safety and your virtual security – these and other precautions add up to more peace of mind for you. After all, protecting homes and families is our highest priority. We’ll keep on sharing great tips when we find them: it’s our goal to be your resource for crime statistics, burglar behaviors, and the latest technologies to thwart intruders. That’s why FrontPoint is the only alarm company in the country to use safer cellular monitoring on every system we’ve ever sold – and charge less for it. But people also know us for our smarter Interactive level of monitoring. Make sure your home is protected: by FrontPoint, the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked alarm company in the US. Here’s to safe online shopping – and Happy Holidays!