The approach of the 2011 Christmas Season will no doubt bring an increase in online shopping. Business Insider announced that predictions for online purchases on Black Friday alone top 800 Million Dollars, a 24% increase over 2010. This is good news for retailers and a major convenience for shoppers who can search and compare prices on items from numerous vendors and make purchases without having to fight the crowds or stand in lines.
If you plan to do any of your shopping online, you should be aware that there are also those who are planning to attack you if you give them the chance. Just as you need to be cautious of strangers and dark places when shopping at the mall, you also need to be wary when you’re shopping while sitting in front of your computer. However, you don’t have to be afraid if you know you are protected.
How can you be attacked?
- Your computer could be vulnerable to attack. If you have not taken steps to protect your computer from viruses, malware, and other kinds of malicious code, attackers could gain access to your computer and all the information in it.
- Phishing sites and email messages – “Phishing” is a type of attack called “social engineering” whereby you are tricked into giving up personal information. Once you do, you lay yourself open to criminals and thieves who will plunder and pillage your personal assets.
- Purchasing from insecure websites – If you shop on a website that does not use encryption, an attacker could intercept your personal information while in transit.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
- First and foremost, be sure your anti-virus software is up to date. You should also be using a firewall and anti-spyware software. Set the software to scan at regular and frequent intervals, preferably at times when you’re not using the computer for other things.
- Update your browser. Many improvements have been added and security flaws have been fixed in recent browser updates, so if you find you’re using a five-year old browser release, do yourself a favor and update it.
- Shop with reputable sites. Established vendors have been through the paces with security of their customers as a primary goal. If you purchase from them, you can rest assured that your shopping is done in safety.
- Be extremely wary of email. Email is where most Phishing attacks start. If they get you to click on a link to a website that looks familiar to you, they have a good chance of getting your login information. Don’t do it. Type the website URL into your address bar instead.
- ALWAYS be sure to check the secure certificate on any site you plan to make purchases from. If it’s a legitimate vendor, the name on the secure certificate will match the domain name where you’re shopping. If the SSL certificate gives you errors or warnings, the safest thing to do is leave. Also, if they are a vendor you have done business with before, do them the courtesy of letting them know about it.
- Use a credit card, not a debit card. Your liability on fraudulent credit card transactions is limited by laws that may not apply if you’re using a debit card. Because your debit card draws funds directly from your bank account, unauthorized charges could leave you with insufficient funds for your regular monthly bills.
- Keep track of your purchases. Create a folder where you keep copies of your online transaction confirmation pages or email. Be sure to compare them to your bank statements and use them to be sure you receive delivery on all the items you purchase.
Like more information? Here’s a list of links from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT):
- Evaluating Your Web Browser’s Security Settings
- Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks
- Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft
Both shopping at the mall and shopping online can be done safely if you know what to watch out for and how to protect yourself from an attack.
Be safe this holiday season!
And now, here is something you won’t enjoy nearly as much online as you would if you were in the mall when it happened: