Many people can remember the infamous 2013 Black Friday credit card hack on Target, a popular retail store, that resulted in the stolen credit and debit card data of 40 million accounts. It was revealed that hackers had infiltrated Target’s customer database by installing malware in their security and payments systems designed to steal all card information. While Social Security numbers were not compromised, customer names, card numbers and security codes were hijacked in this case of information theft.
Each year, the personal information and identities of millions of Americans are used fraudulently. Last year, fraudsters claimed approximately $15 billion from 13.1 million people. With major holidays right around the corner, the proliferation of hacks is predicted to grow, and we can expect to see cases of information theft and identity theft rise with online shopping involved.
With the shopping season well underway, hackers are cooking up schemes to secure their own holiday cheer. In fact, in 2015 the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted that 46 percent of all holiday shopping would take place online and in 2016, that online sales would rise between 7 and 10 percent.
In a worst-case scenario, hackers could use sensitive information to replicate cards and extract money from ATMs. Such was the case with Target, and indeed there were numerous reports of unauthorized ATM withdrawals from customer accounts.
The frequency of cybercrime is mounting, and information theft is becoming even more prevalent. Don’t get too caught up in the holiday frenzy and ignore these basic security guidelines while you shop online. Here are our top four tips:
Avoid making purchases via an unsecured network
Free Wi-Fi can be tempting, but hackers often use unsecured Wi-Fi spots to target users on the same network and steal information. As a rule of thumb, it is best practice not to send any personal information via a public (open) network, including credit or debit card information. Even if you are on secured network, taking extra precautions is recommended.
Simply look for the lock on the browser. In other words, verify that your connection is encrypted by making sure Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is enabled, which ensures that outsiders are not lurking around the network attempting to steal sensitive information. The easiest way to check is to look in the browser’s search bar and check if a little lock is in place. The URL address should start with “https” instead of “http.”
Never open questionable links or download files from suspicious emails
It comes as no surprise that the number of phishing sites surges during the holidays, especially between Black Friday and Christmas. Hackers are eager to lure victims into falling for their too-good-to-be-true holiday offers, and we are more apt to open links or attachments containing holiday-themed pictures and offers.
However, it is extremely dangerous if you end up downloading a malicious file that can inject malware and steal critical personal information. As the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Use antivirus software and firewalls
To protect yourself, choose a trustworthy antivirus software that can scan and monitor your computer for any malicious activity. Antivirus software can ensure protection against trojans, malware and spyware that are designed to steal. But it doesn’t stop there. It is also equally important to ensure that your antivirus software is up to date.
Avoid leaving a data trail
While it is not possible to completely erase your tracks online, there are some steps you can take toward minimizing risk of information theft and identity theft. While gift shopping online, you may come across websites that require you to create an account with them even for one-time purchases. However, after you make secure purchases, delete any unused accounts.
Not deleting unused accounts exposes you to risk since it is possible for hackers to access leftover transaction information if a website later experiences a data breach. This is especially true if you use the same usernames and passwords for multiple online accounts.
On that note, remember to use strong passwords for any online shopping sites where you have filled in credit or debit card information! Also, turn on additional security tools, such as strong authentication, where available. You can learn more about it here.
Hackers are highly aware that this time of the year is peak season for online shopping. Website security and internet safety may be the last things on your mind during this holiday time, but it is important to follow basic security guidelines when you’re searching for that perfect gift online. Don’t become the next victim of information or identity theft.
About the Author
Karen Cruz is the brand manager for Cloudbric, a cloud-based web application firewall (WAF) that brings enterprise-level security, including SSL and CDN, to anyone with a website. Visit cloudbric.com or email [email protected] for more information.