Karen McDowell is an information security analyst in U.Va's Information Security, Policy and Records Office. She regularly makes presentations on avoiding common online hazards, and has worked in information technology for more than 15 years.
By Karen McDowell
Newswise — ‘Tis the season to be extra careful when shopping online. It’s no surprise that online holiday shopping is expected to grow by 12 percent to 15 percent this year, nor is it news that cybercriminals and ordinary hackers are preparing, like bears at a trout stream, to steal our data, money, and identities.
As someone whose job it is to help ensure computer security at the University of Virginia, I want to share these tips so that you, your family – and your money – will be safe.
Cybercriminals will use social media, like Facebook and Twitter, to push fake alerts, holiday deal apps, special discounts, raffles and ads. Don’t click. If you’re interested, check out the offer at an official, reputable website instead of clicking on the offer on the social media site.
Hackers will also target mobile phones, so it’s best to download apps only from official app stores, and check other users’ reviews, as well as the app’s permission policies.
Watch out for travel scams, which may take the form of a hotel Wi-Fi pop-up or phony travel webpages.
Every year hackers send infected attachments with subject lines that purport to be from FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. If you are expecting a package and want to track it, obtain the tracking number from the official website, and track it that way.
Other scams include bogus gift cards, fake charities, forged e-cards, and phony classifieds.
SMiShing – phishing via text message – is expected to increase during the holidays, too. This is a good time to remember that you should never click on an unsolicited link or respond to an unsolicited message with personal or financial information, even if it appears to come from a friend. Always verify – independent of the message.
Above all, use a strong and different password for each account you create for online purchases. While you’re at it, make sure each of your electronic accounts has a different, strong password. If hackers pry into one account, they won’t necessarily be able to hit your other accounts. Check out a password manager, if remembering passwords is hard for you. Some are free but they’re all useful, as long as your passwords are stored on your computer and not in their cloud.
Computer security is important any time of the year, but like bricks-and-mortar stores, cybercriminals will have their busiest season between now and New Year’s. My advice: Think it through before clicking through.