It’s the most wonderful time of the year not just for you, but also for hackers in search of easy targets to siphon data and funds from. The Christmas season, including holidays such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day, is ripe with cyber security threats through payment processors and other parties due to a predictable spike in consumer spending and online activity. It’s true that throughout the year, the threat of data theft remains prevalent, but hackers know all too well of the increased opportunity to bypass weak information security during the busiest online shopping season of the year. Luckily, there are ways to safeguard yourself as best as possible while browsing and spending online. Here are a few key ways you can protect your data more efficiently, regardless of whether you’re using Wi-Fi or cellular data.
Watch Out for Suspicious Emails, Texts, and Social Media Messages
The most common way that hackers obtain consumer data is through cleverly written phishing emails that are intended to spoof other companies as closely as possible. This is more successful because users will sooner trust instructions if they seem to be from a reputable business that they’re familiar with. However, there are ways to spot a fake email designed to collect your personal data. First, check for poor grammar, spelling, odd spacing, and whether the writing itself is in a voice that doesn’t match the company it claims to be from. Blurry, low-resolution logos and photos with odd placements as well as strange font choices are an indicator of a malicious email or text. Above all else, any messages asking for sensitive information such as your credit card information, social insurance number or address are definitely spam. Be sure to block, report, and delete as quickly as possible, keep your “Junk” folder clean– after all, you don’t want anything nasty hanging around.
Use a Single, Low-Interest Credit Card for More Efficient Expense Tracking
When it comes to online shopping during the holidays, it’s best to simplify your spending by using a single credit card to maximize your cyber security – preferably one that has the lowest interest rate possible. This way, you can easily monitor your expenditures and quickly identify if something is amiss. Unexpected charges for vague purchases and random “service charges” can very well be a sign of your credit card data being compromised. If you notice anything that’s unexpected or out of place with no explanation for why it’s there, contact your bank immediately and have them shut down the card to protect your information security – regardless of whether you’re unexpectedly losing or receiving funds.
Avoid Shopping Apps that Store Your Information
True, apps such as Amazon and eBay are commonly used, but there are others out there (such as those for chain stores) that also hold on to your information for “easy” purchases – right down to your address, full name, purchases, and debit/credit card information. This can be used to produce ads that appeal to your interests, which are then designed to obtain your sensitive information and give it to someone else. There are other ways that shopping apps can affect you to steal your data, such as an influx of spam emails and “offers.” Also, if you give your personal information to claim a prize in a “giveaway,” it can be sold or used to commit identity theft. The same principle applies to rebates.
Delete Cookies and Avoid Being “Always Signed In”
We all know how handy and efficient it can be to “remain signed in” on social media or on sites such as Amazon when on Wi-Fi or cellular data, but in doing so, you’re leaving any signed-in system open for complete access to your personal information. Never allow your computer, tablet, smartphone or other devices to “remember” your login credentials under any circumstances as, if your system’s security is compromised, individuals forcing their way in have total access to your most sensitive data without even having to do anything or bypass security barriers. Deleting all cookies, including those for tracking, as well as your browser history will ensure that your passwords and usernames are completely forgotten by each system you carry out this proactive maintenance on.
Watch Out for Questionable “Friends” and Followers
If you have an Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or other social media account, you may have encountered circumstances where you have a new follower or friend without even knowing it – perhaps you were browsing your friends list and noticed an unfamiliar name, for example. If you don’t recognize the person and aren’t anticipating a new addition to your list of followers (if you haven’t posted on Instagram in weeks, for instance), it’s best to delete and/or block them if they don’t seem to be authentic. A major red flag is if you receive new followers or friend requests from strangers immediately or shortly after making an online purchase or even browsing an online store, as it could very well be a bot designed to steal your data from social media. A giveaway of this is the details of their profile; if their photo is questionable, inappropriate or their profile is either empty or full of spam posts, block and report them straight away. Also, ensure that you change your passwords and delete all cookies at this time, and perhaps run an antiviral scan just to be certain of no repercussions.
When it comes to it, maintaining your information security on Wi-Fi and/or cellular data during the holidays requires proactivity, extra care, and diligence. While having a reliable and non-bloating antivirus, firewalls, and extra cyber security measures will make a difference, applying sensibility to your browsing, online shopping, and sensitive data storage such as that of passwords is what will make the greatest impact.
Editor’s Note: The writer’s opinions expressed in this guest article are those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of IT Security Central and Teramind Co.