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Posted on November 28, 2016

Safe Shopping 101

Happy Cyber Monday, and we hope you avoided the stress of Black Friday, and maybe even scored some deals. We dearly hope you enjoyed a safe and pleasant Thanksgiving with family, friends, and assorted loved ones, as our nation earned a much-needed rest from the tensions of Election season. The bonding opportunities of the Holiday Season is upon us, and in addition to the spirit of goodwill we hope will prevail across political and philosophical lines, there will also be a joint commitment to continuing to ensure national security in the online space while also maintaining privacy protections for each American. There are inevitably efforts made by malicious hackers (and sometimes worse) each Holiday Season, so vigilance is the order of the day.

We have yet to hear much more about President-Elect Donald Trump’s policies with regards to the limitations that may be placed on some sorts of Internet traffic, and there will doubtless be much discussion and strenuous debate at a future date. For the purposes of discussing the 2016 shopping season, we can set those conversations aside and agree on some simple cybersecurity tenets as stated here by Duncan Campbell, CEO of Pennsylvania Bankers Association: “Every industry. Every individual. Every bank, every partner in this process is vulnerable to some sort of breech. We are in this together. We have great freedoms and we want to protect those freedoms,” said Campbell.

Consumers hunt for great deals on Cyber Monday, but at the same time, cybercriminals are hunting for ways to steal consumer information. Promo or coupon codes from unknown sources require caution: if the discount looks too good to be true, it likely is. Even if the link is a convincing one, don’t click. Rather, copy it and use it directly on the retailer’s website always keep in mind, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.” If something seems suspect or a retailer is selling a hard-to-find, popular product for 90 percent off, again, don’t click an online ad. Enter the retailer’s website and do a search for the product yourself. That extra effort may save you from a huge cybersecurity debacle. As a preventive step, use unique passwords for each online store.

We sound like a broken record but make sure your computer and mobile devices are up-to-date, as that will help prevent the introduction of malware, viruses, and other online threats. A newer bugaboo to get in your sights is newer and more surprising than most: beware of unexpected package tracking emails, and cautious of unsolicited emails. IBM X-Force Research has seen scammers using malicious package tracking emails for Amazon purchases. When the person clicks the tracking link these cyber pirates instead infect their computer with ransomware, which encrypts their computer and requires them to pay a some amount of money to regain access.

When shopping from work, make sure your company’s security is paramount.

Don’t use your corporate email address when making online purchases, and avoid using the same password you do for your corporate login so as not to put your employer at risk. When out and about, consider whether shopping online is something you really need or want to do, as you absolutely must be on a secure WiFi network. If the one you use at your home or office is password protected, you should be fine. Steer away of the public WiFi networks at restaurants or cafes.

Regardless whether you sit this one out, we wish you a happy Cyber Monday. Let’s hope it brings abundance and joy, and with minimal criminal impact.