Bari Abdul is Vice President of Check Point's Consumer Business, ZoneAlarm, focused on innovating consumer security for the digital age. He has over 20 years of experience developing and executing go-to-market strategies that deliver record revenue and market share.
It seems that the holiday shopping season comes earlier and earlier each year. Luckily, in the digital age, you can ditch the long lines of Black Friday and join the Cyber Monday crew by doing all your shopping online. However, even though shopping online is quick and convenient, there are risks involved.
[More from Mashable: Facebook’s New Analytics Reminds Businesses to Engage Fans]
According to Forrester Research, online shopping this holiday season is expected to generate almost $59.5 billion. And 90% of consumers will shop online, according to PriceGrabber’s winter holiday shopping survey. This increased traffic turns the virtual marketplace into a winter wonderland for hackers, who are gearing up to swipe credit cards and personal information to commit fraud and identify theft.
Cybercriminals exploit the holiday season and target Internet users through a variety of methods, including online shopping scams, fraudulent emails, e-card and phishing schemes and more. One of the main focuses for hackers this holiday season is social media. Beware of fake profiles on social networking and ecommerce sites that are meant to mimic well-known corporate brands and coax users into clicking on their content. Malicious content can easily hide in Facebook links and Twitter posts.
[More from Mashable: 9 Tips for Activating the Entrepreneurial Spirit]
So how do you keep naughty hackers at bay this holiday season? Follow these 10 tips to protect yourself while shopping online.
1. Install, update and activate your security software At a minimum, use a firewall and antivirus software to protect you from malware that gives cybercriminals easy entrance into your computer and accounts. There are many free options. If you only use antivirus, be sure to add a two-way firewall to block hackers from entering your computer and using it to send out attacks and spam.
2. Use strong, unique passwords Always create strong passwords (read: not these ones) for all online accounts and include letters, numbers and symbols. Longer passwords are more secure and harder to crack. Hackers employ special password-cracking software to guess their way into your accounts. Avoid using the same password for every account -- it makes it easier for hackers.
3. Only connect to legitimate Wi-Fi networks Before you connect to a network and start shopping online, verify that the Wi-Fi network name (SSID) you are connecting to is from a legitimate service. Do not connect to random, unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It increases your security risks.
4. Make sure it’s the real site Scammers often target users through phishing on email and social media. These messages include a link or popup that encourages you to click on it for “special deals” or to verify some sort of information from a seller or courier, such as FedEx and UPS. The site may look similar to a real site, such as Amazon, but is actually a trap meant to steal your login or financial information. When shopping online, do not click links. Instead, access a legitimate company’s website by typing the company’s information directly into the web browser. And never enter personal information on a popup screen -- this is another way for thieves to steal personal information.
5.Only shop from secure sites When paying online, verify that you are on an SSL secured site -- the web address will start with https:// and have a little padlock icon next to it. Websites that are SSL-secured will encrypt sensitive information such as credit card numbers during the transaction. You can also click on the padlock icon to verify the identity of the certificate owner.
6. Look for third-party seals of approval If you see a Better Business Bureau or TRUSTe symbol, it means the site must adhere to certain standards regarding business practices and personal information.
7. Beware of deals that are too good to be true The holiday season means some goods and gift cards are hot properties on the market, and cybercriminals will exploit consumers trying to get their hands on them. For example, one known Facebook scam promotes a free $1,000 Wal-Mart gift card. But you must first share the link with your friends and take a survey, which collects personal information. You are then re-routed to a seemingly legitimate website that requires you to participate in various promotions and purchase subscriptions, fees or products -- all are ploys to get your banking and personal information. Stick to legitimate retailers and avoid these types of gimmicks.
8. Use a dummy email account Many sites require accounts/email logins to use. If you set up an additional email account to be used only for marketing, newsletters or online shopping, your personal correspondence and information won’t be at risk (and you won’t get as much unwanted spam).
9. Use a credit card Shopping with a debit card online puts your checking and savings account at risk if the information is stolen. Credit cards offer protections that debit cards don’t, and you can dispute charges if needed. Some banks also offer virtual credit card numbers to use. These are temporary credit card numbers with an expiration date and a purchase maximum, which can be very useful for some transactions.
10. Read privacy agreements If you don’t want to increase the chances of your information being accessed online, keep an eye out for websites that sell your information to third parties. Carefully review all privacy agreements and decide for yourself whether you’re willing to click “Agree.”
If you do encounter fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission and submit a complaint form on the FTC website.
Bottom line: The holiday shopping season means more security threats. If you follow these tips, take the proper precautions and trust your gut, you will greatly decrease your chances of being scammed by hackers. Happy Cyber Monday!
This story originally published on Mashable here.