It’s the holiday season, so expect to see a lot of information about cybersecurity in various blogs and the media. Cybersecurity should always be top of mind, but it requires even more attention this time of year. The reason: Cybercriminals like to take advantage of all the online activity that takes place over the holidays when the frequency of online donations and shopping are up and attention to security is down.
There are at least 14 religious holidays in the month of December and a number of “national holidays.” (Who doesn’t love National Pie Day on December 1 and National Bicarbonate Soda Day on December 30?)
Whatever and however you celebrate this season, embrace these five important cybersecurity tips.
1. Only connect to known Wi-Fi networks. Avoid network names that have typos or extra characters. They’re a dead giveaway that something is not right. In general, avoid public Wi-Fi whenever possible ─ for both company and personal business. When not connected to the company network, it’s best for everyone to use their own private Wi-Fi or hardwired network connection, or their mobile phone’s carrier network.
2. Beware of fake or copycat websites, particularly those advertising holiday time specials. While they make look like legitimate sites, many contain misspelled links, pixilated images, and substandard content ─ signs that they are not legitimate.
Hover the cursor over the URL and confirm the authenticity of the web address. Look for the padlock symbol in the address bar and ensure that the URL begins with ‘HTTPS://’ or ‘SHTTP://’ rather than ‘HTTP://.’ The ‘S’ indicates that the webpage has been encrypted and secured with an SSL certificate.
Pay attention to emails offering holiday specials as well. Look carefully at the sender’s email address. Companies like Gap and Under Armour aren’t going to have email addresses that use a mixture of letters and numbers or someone else’s name rather than their own.
When in doubt, try sending an email to the email address to see what kind of response you get.
3. Beware of social media scams. Many companies like to use social media channels as a way to encourage “clicks” on their sites – but not all of them are legitimate. Hackers use Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites to take online customers to scam sites and/or encourage them to click on links that can result in downloading malware.
There are also those companies that advertise intriguing, make-you-want-to-buy-them items that, in reality, don’t look like what’s displayed and don’t have the quality indicated. They also may have longer delivery times – if they even show up at all. Don’t buy into all the hyped-up online reviews either. Some companies pay for positive online reviews or fake them. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
4. Standard rule: Always avoid pop-ups, ads, and emails with links. They’re going to be all the more prevalent over the holidays, so don’t let your guard down. Clicking on them often takes a user to a scam site or causes malware to be downloaded on their devices. When shopping online or researching deals, it’s best to go directly to the brand or store’s website for a more secure experience.
5. Use credit cards instead of debit cards for online shopping and making donations online. Major credit card companies, including Mastercard, American Express, Visa, and Discover, provide “zero liability” policies, so you don’t have to pay for fraudulent activities.
Also, regularly monitor your bank statements to ensure there are no unusual transactions. As there will be unprecedented online activity during the holidays, cybercriminals hope that any unusual debits from a shopper’s or donor’s account will go undetected.
Of course, making sure you have all software updates and patches implemented, privacy and security settings appropriately set, and online security mechanisms in place will help tremendously too.
Don’t let cybercrime ruin the holiday season. Stay vigilant. Be smart. Make security (online and in your everyday life) a priority.