5 Ways to Have Yourself a Secure Little Online Shopping Season

As criminals continue to evolve their tactics to steal personal and private information, it's becoming more difficult to identify holiday fraud.

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By Grayson Milbourne


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Cybercriminals take advantage of the fact that there is flurry of purchases and online transactions on popular shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- and it doesn't slow down until the New Year. Last year, on Cyber Monday alone, online sales came to $2.5 billion in the U.S. Additionally, Forrester Research expects retail transaction volume to increase by 11 percent during November and December -- meaning it's very likely consumers (and conversely, retailers) will see an uptick in security threats.

Related: Why Small-Business Entrepreneurs Should Care About Cybersecurity

Keeping this in mind, hackers will scam consumers by posing as legitimate sources like eBay or Amazon, and Google cites that cybercriminals successfully entice unsuspecting victims an alarming 45 percent of the time. When it comes to holiday shopping, some of the greatest security risks for consumers fly under the radar. Particularly during the winter months, shoppers tend to let their guards down during the search for finding the perfect holiday gift. For example, if a shopper searches for "Star Wars toys" and "coupons," this may lead to a malicious link or bad URL that seeks to steal information.

Hackers unfortunately don't take time off during the holidays -- so how can we keep cybercriminals at bay?

Here are five tips on how to keep you and your family secure.

1. Update your passwords and make them different.

Aim to change your primary email account password every three months. This helps keep you more secure, because a stolen password only stays compromised until you change it again. Make sure the email account used for registering online accounts uses a different password from all other accounts. Breaking into someone's primary email account makes it easy to access an individual's other accounts through password reset options. To maintain proper cyber hygiene, make changing your passwords a part of your New Year's resolutions this year.

For mobile devices, it's important to leverage multi-factor authentication. Using a lock screen that requires a password isn't enough. In addition, use biometrics if your phone supports it, (a thumbprint) and then use a second method of authentication such as a long password.

In addition to changing passwords, make sure you don't use the same password for all of your accounts. Once a hacker has one password, accessing a user's information becomes easier.

Related: Use a Password Manager to Make Your Accounts Are Secure

2. Use a single credit / debit card.

When making purchases online, try to use the same credit / debit card for all of these transactions. That way, you can monitor for fraud or unauthorized purchases more easily. Also, for online purchases, review transactions frequently to stay on top of suspicious activity.

3. Watch out for email scams.

Sadly, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This can be especially difficult to detect during the holidays since consumers are expecting to find a great deal. While you're on the hunt for the best price for that perfect gift, trust only the online stores you know to avoid the scammers. Also, be wary of emails advertising mega-deals. This season can be stressful enough without worrying about cybercriminals dipping into gift-giving funds.

4. Be aware of your surroundings.

In general, it's important to be aware of your surroundings online and monitor for any suspicious behavior. For example, just because you can connect to the Internet almost anywhere doesn't mean you should connect to Wi-Fi if it's available, especially if it's on a non-secure network. Most hotspots and public Wi-Fi networks inherently lack adequate protection, leaving your mobile devices, tablets and personal computers at risk.

On top of that, malicious users oftentimes will create networks or URLs similar to coffee shops, or other types of venues. In most cases, you should turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings on devices if it's not needed. With that said, shoppers should treat all public Wi-Fi networks as suspicious.

5. Use security technology to stay safe online.

Finally, take technological precautions. Make sure your internet browser, plugins, Java, operating system, apps, etc. are all up to date, so you have the latest security patches. Leveraging security technology like antivirus or other software for endpoint protection can help block against fake web addresses, phishing scams, malware and other security threats on your devices. Remember, that protecting your devices helps to protect your personal information.

Holiday shopping will continue to evolve with the emergence of ecommerce apps and the convenience of online shopping. While cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to access personal information, it's important for shoppers to stay proactive as they browse the internet, questioning retailers and online sources as they continue to make purchases.

Don't get grinched this year -- have yourself a secure cyber holiday.

Related: This Cybersecurity App Handles Your Company's Internal Weaknesses

Grayson Milbourne

Security Intelligence Director for Webroot

Grayson Milbourne is the security intelligence director at Webroot. Over the past 10 years Milbourne has worked in various areas of the company, spending the past eight years focused on threat analysis. His areas of security intelligence expertise range from mobile to automation to cloud security.

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