Opinion: Shopping Online This Holiday Season? Why you need to protect yourself

The holiday shopping season is a great opportunity for bad actors to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers through fake websites, malicious links, and even bogus charity. Their goal is simple: recover your personal and financial information to compromise your data, insert malware, steal your identity, and take your money.

And if you think you aren’t worth being the butt of such bad actors, think again. Criminals don’t need to know your bank account amount to want to access it. Your identity, your financials, the content of your emails, these are all valuable, and cybercriminals will cast as wide a net as possible to reach anyone they can. In fact, they are counting on you to think that you are not a target.

At the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), we’ve put in place a few simple steps to help you avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime this holiday season.

Cell phones, computers, and tablets all require you to install software updates, which include the latest security features and fixes. Protect your devices by downloading the latest software updates. The easiest way to do this is to turn on automatic updates.

Next, take a look at your online accounts and make sure they have strong passwords. Believe it or not, the most common password is “password” followed by “123456”. Make sure you use different and complex passwords for each account. Consider using a password manager so you don’t have to remember the complex alphanumeric combinations that make passwords harder to crack.

Enable multi-factor authentication

The most important thing you can do to protect your online accounts is to implement multi-factor authentication. Your email, online banking, social media accounts should all allow you to enable multi-factor authentication. This means that they will use additional information to verify your identity. It can be something as simple as receiving a code via text message, but for even more security you can use a passkey or an authenticator app.

The bottom line with multi-factor authentication is that even if an attacker obtains your password, they may not be able to access your account. This extra step alone makes you 99% less likely to be hacked.

Know how to spot phishing scams

Most of us get emails from retailers about special offers during the holidays. Cybercriminals often send phishing emails that are designed to look like retailers, but are actually designed to steal your information or infect your system with malware.

To avoid falling victim to a phishing scam, don’t click on links or download attachments unless you know where they’re coming from. If you’re not sure if an email is legitimate, type the URL of the retailer or other business into your web browser instead of clicking the link.
Never provide your password or your personal or financial information in response to an unsolicited email. Legitimate businesses will not send you emails asking for this information. If you receive a suspicious email that you think is a phishing scam, you can report it at us-cert.gov/report-phishing.

Trust your instincts! If that sounds suspicious, it probably is. That is why before providing any personal or financial information, make sure that you are interacting with a real supplier.

Always use secure methods for your purchases.

Always assume that a public Wi-Fi network is not secure and therefore do not access sensitive personal or financial information if you must use one. Look for “https” (rather than “http”) in the subject line of a web address to confirm that a site is encrypted and to keep your browser and security software up to date.

If you can, use a credit card rather than a debit card when making a purchase. Criminals can use debit cards to directly steal your bank account, and while there are laws to limit your liability for fraudulent credit card charges, you may not have the same level of protection. for your debit cards and your bank account.

Since you’ll likely be shopping more during the holiday season, be sure to check your credit card and bank statements frequently for any fraudulent charges. Immediately notify your bank or financial institution and local law enforcement if you notice any suspicious charges.

At the end of the day, good cybersecurity isn’t about technology, it’s about people

Your cybersecurity should be treated like your physical security. Stay alert, take the above steps to protect yourself, and trust your instincts. If you see something wrong, chances are it isn’t.

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