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Holiday cybercrime season is here: 12 tips for secure online shopping
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Holiday cybercrime season is here: 12 tips for secure online shopping

The holiday season is finally upon us, signaling the return of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Shoppers across the nation are poised to take advantage of incredible deals. But be advised: Cybercriminals are also marking these dates, using the increase in online shopping to unleash phishing attacks, ransomware, and adware upon unsuspecting consumers.

This time of year, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the National Security Agency step up their game to guard against major attacks. But the real onus of vigilance falls on consumers themselves to protect their digital sleighs from these modern-day Grinches.

The top threats this holiday season

Phishing scams: These scams take on a festive guise during the holiday season, with emails and messages crafted to mimic genuine holiday specials or charity drives, aiming to trick shoppers into giving away sensitive data or downloading malicious software.

Ransomware: Perhaps the best known version of malware, ransomware demands payment to unlock access to the victim’s data and often comes cloaked in holiday-themed downloads, exploiting the season's goodwill and the lure of holiday bargains.

Adware and browser hijacking: Malicious adware and browser hijacking software programs can redirect you to counterfeit websites boasting irresistible deals, only to rob you of your credit card details and personal information.

Fraudulent password requests: A common ruse involves emails falsely claiming to be from service providers, prompting users to change their passwords with a link to a bogus website designed to steal information. Should you find yourself victimized, immediately changing your login credentials is the best move.

Social media dangers: Particularly at risk are social media enthusiasts, with new malvertising campaigns like NodeStealer, which recently launched approximately 140 ad campaigns with images of attractive individuals, pushing malicious downloads onto devices.

As the CISA and the NSA continue to monitor these threats and offer guidance, they become an invaluable resource during the holiday season. Their efforts, combined with consumer awareness, are key to a safe digital shopping experience.

12 ways to boost your online security as you shop

Be alert with emails and deals: Carefully inspect promotional emails and online offers. Be on the lookout for phishing red flags, such as poor grammar, suspicious links, and unusual requests for personal information.

Choose secure payment options: Select payment methods that offer strong consumer protections, such as virtual credit cards or established online payment services.

Update your devices: Make sure your devices have the latest security updates installed to fend off threats.

Craft strong passwords: Generate unique, complex passwords for all online accounts and update them periodically. A password manager can be a valuable tool in managing your passwords effectively.

Use two-factor authentication: Add an extra layer of protection to your accounts by enabling two-factor authentication, which might require an additional step or two, but an extra minute of inconvenience is a fine trade-off for the hours or days you’ll spend cleaning up the mess if your accounts are hacked.

Watch your transactions: Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements, watching for any unauthorized activity.

Use caution on public Wi-Fi: Avoid performing transactions over public Wi-Fi. If you must, use a virtual private network to secure your connection.

Keep informed on cybersecurity: Stay updated on the latest cybersecurity threats by following trusted organizations and experts.

Steer clear of suspicious links: Do not click on links from unknown sources, as they could lead to harmful sites or malware downloads.

Verify website authenticity: Only shop on known, legitimate websites, and verify that their URLs start with HTTPS to ensure a secure connection.

Question too-good-to-be-true offers: Be wary of offers that seem too incredible, as they often are and may be phishing attempts or scams. This is especially true on social media.

Back up your data: Regularly back up your important data to recover quickly in the event of a cyberattack.

Integrating these 12 tips into your holiday shopping habits can help you enjoy the season's cheer without compromising your online safety. Cybersecurity is a year-round commitment, so consider it the gift that keeps on giving.

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Julio Rivera

Julio Rivera

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, a cybersecurity researcher, and a political commentator and columnist.