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Make your holiday shopping list, and check it twice… look for safe and secure ways to prevent scams while making online purchases.

By Jacob Blacksten 

With the holiday season in full swing, there is a lot on our plates, both literally and figuratively. You are likely buying presents online, making travel arrangements to see family and friends, and setting up the inevitable “smart” devices you will be giving or receiving as gifts. Being diligent and secure while online tends to fall to the wayside, especially when searching for the best deals or quickest instructions.

While your guard naturally drops during the holiday season, cybercrimes spike. Scams increasingly pop up all over. So, before buying that gift from a site you have never heard of with a payment method you have never used before, read through our tips below to ensure you are protecting your personal data. This will help keep the Grinch from stealing your Christmas (or identity) this holiday season.

When shopping online:

    • Avoid Public Wi-Fi: Ensure you are sending Santa your wish list on a secure, password-protected wireless network. Free public Wi-Fi is dangerous and may allow anyone to eavesdrop on your online activity.
    • Protect Your Devices: Before starting your gift-buying frenzy, ensure all your devices are free of viruses and malware.
    • Secure Logins: Like snowflakes, all your accounts should have unique passphrases, and, to increase security, you should consider turning on two-factor (multi-factor) authentication.
    • Browse Securely: Check to ensure you have a secure connection to the North Pole. Only shop on sites that are encrypted. You can identify these sites in a few ways. Check for the “s” in HTTPS in front of the URL, or look for the lock or shield icon in your browser next to the URL bar.
    • Don’t Get Phished: Pesky elves sometimes pretend to be Santa and play tricks on you. Make sure you do not open emails from unknown senders or click on any links in suspicious messages via email or text message.
    • Think Before You Buy: If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ensure you only go to reputable websites and avoid untrusted online retailers you have never heard of before.
    • Pay Securely: Mr. Scrooge likes money and does not offer refunds. To avoid having payment information stolen or compromised, use credit cards or pre-paid debit cards instead of a debit card linked to your bank account.

When Traveling:

    • Be Wary of USB Ports: Never connect your devices to a USB port in the airport or anywhere. USB is used for data transmission, and you could unknowingly be connecting your devices to attackers’ computers.
    • Turn Off Unneeded Services: Make sure to turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC when in public places and not in use. This will stop unwanted connections to your devices.
    • No Reindeer Left Behind: Keep track of your laptop, smartphone, tablet, and even accessories such as USB drives – especially while on the go. And don’t leave your devices unattended in public places.

Ways To Protect Yourself:

    • Use a VPN or Hotspot when public Wi-Fi is all that is available. There are tons of free and low-cost solutions out there. Check our North Star Resources page for a list.
    • Always have antivirus and antimalware on all of your devices. This will help protect your systems from anyone trying to break into them.
    • Turn on encryption for your devices so that the data on them is unreadable to anyone that isn’t you in the event they are lost or stolen.
    • If you do not have a credit card and do not want to buy a pre-paid debit card when online shopping, use trusted third-party payment portals like PayPal, Google Pay, and Apple Pay. This will protect your purchase connection.

Following these tips will make you much safer online this holiday season. If you want to learn more about protecting yourself, your business, and the data you collect, visit our North Star cybersecurity page. Have a SAFE and Happy Holiday!

About the Author: Jake is a University of Delaware graduate and holds three master’s degrees, MBA (2020), MS in Cybersecurity, and an MS in Business Analytics and Technology Management. Returning to Delaware after serving as a Digital Forensic Investigator in the Manhattan, NYC office of Stroz Friedberg. Jacob is skilled in a range of software and hardware platforms and the measures in which to secure them. With expertise in cybersecurity, database management, digital marketing, and finance, Jacob is passionate about technology. He holds two SANS GIAC certifications in both digital forensics and security essentials.

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