Computer Security and The Holidays: Things Are Not Always Merry and Bright

Picture of Rick DelgadoRick Delgado feels blessed to have had a successful career in the tech industry and has recently taken a step back to pursue his passion of writing. He's started doing freelance writing where he occasionally works with tech companies like Dell Computers. He enjoys writing about new technologies and how it can help us and our planet.

The holidays are always so rushed. We can barely enjoy one before we start seeing ads and have to start preparing for the next. Halloween decorations go up in September, and before the witches, goblins and candy are removed from one aisle, we can hear Christmas music just a few aisles away.

And as stressful as the holidays can be while scrambling for decorations and gifts, online retailers have certainly made life much easier. Beating the lines and avoiding the weather by clicking and ordering everything online is incredibly convenient. However, while the convenience is unparalleled, there are serious security risks that accompany online shopping. There are so many different forms of cyber theft these days, it's hard to predict where they’ll come from. If we aren’t careful, hackers can steal our banking information while we shop online, and make unauthorized purchases on our behalf. Worse, the holidays are a prime time for this, as so many people are on the internet looking for the best deal, and paying little attention to security.

Having our personal information stolen is a terrifying thought, but there are a number of things we can do to protect ourselves. Here’s a simple list of security tips that’ll help ensure you have a happy holiday.

  • One of the first things you’ll want to do is make sure the privacy settings on your computer and mobile devices are activated. Do you have antivirus software? You should. Keeping your network security software updated will protect you from viruses and intrusion attempts. It may seem trivial, but even basic virus protection can ward off threats and keep your personal information safe from criminals. In addition, make sure you understand the privacy disclosures for the online retailers and websites you visit to ensure they’re protecting your data.
  • One of the most common means of stealing personal data is a practise called phishing. Criminals can send emails disguised as legitimate requests from well-known websites or businesses. If you click on any of the links, or respond with personal information, you risk compromising passwords and credit card information. Always think twice before responding to any request for personal or financial data. Check who is asking and why. If you haven’t made any purchases and suddenly someone wants your banking information, that’s a warning flag. Banks don’t normally request personal information via email, so beware email solicitations.
  • Another great way to avoid fraud is by closely monitoring your spending and accounts. You can download mobile banking apps and check your balance and account activity on the go. This will help you notice any unauthorized charges you should report to your bank. You can also use features that’ll send alerts if your balance is low, or there is unusual spending activity.
  • Make sure that when you’re purchasing items online you’re using a secured WiFi network. At home, when your WiFi is password protected, you are much safer. You’re in control of who is allowed on your network. But, when you go out and use public wireless, like at a coffee shop, you’re more at risk. Anyone can use that connection to get into your computer and access personal information. If you’re going to make purchases, do them on a secured network.
  • Finally, when making purchases, look for the “https” in the web address in your browser. HTTPS is a computer protocol that secures communication over a network. Normally, this identifies secured websites. Also, sites used for making purchases should be verified by Truste, or a similar security service.

The key to protecting your information is you. While there are many ways criminals can go after your data, taking simple steps will drastically reduce the threat. Be vigilant. Only shop at trusted retailers. Only give out personal information if you’re making a purchase on that website. If it redirects you somewhere else, it may be dangerous. It may sound cliché, but trust your instincts. If something seems out of place, then it most likely is.

Happy Christmas!

Do keep you data safe this Christmas! Do you have any additional tips? Let us know in the comments section below or via @TechNetUK as we'd love to hear them!