Today is Cyber Monday, the day when millions of shoppers set forth on the web to find unprecedented deals on merchandise. Retailers large and small are participating in Cyber Monday, either passively or deliberately. The truth is – Cyber Monday is a marketers’ dream. The day itself marks the beginning of the very concentrated holiday shopping season on the web. People are actively thinking about their holiday gift needs right after Thanksgiving and they return to work, and their computers, today. So essentially they are stealing time from their employers to shop in record numbers. And retailers are encouraging them to do it by coining the day – Cyber Monday. The next few weeks will see a significant upturn in web-based commerce. More than likely, in order to beat the traffic and the crowds, you’ll be buying a good portion of your holiday gifts and supplies online. While you’re surfing and shopping, though, criminals and mischief-makers are hitting the web in record numbers too. It’s more critical than ever to have some awareness of what you’re up against when it comes to protecting your data and your credit and to be somewhat prepared to counter the efforts of the (using a term my son uses often) ‘bad guys’ on the internet. If you’re new or still a little unsure about cyber shopping then this post is for you. Well, it’s not, it’s actually for my mother and everyone like my mother – those people wanting to jump into the excitement of web shopping but who still have a tendency to believe every crazy email they receive and click on every errant pop-up that dances across their screen. Here are some simple tips to help mom, and the entire family, stay just a little safer online this holiday season.
Avoid The Deal-In-A-Message
It’s hard to ignore the personalized notes that we receive via email or Facebook messages. You know the ones I’m talking about – those messages that come addressed to you and seem to have read your mind. They talk about a hard to beat deal and then include a link directly to a seemingly reputable website where you can purchase the item to realize these fabulous savings. These messages are generally a phishing scam. They trick you into believing you’re actually on the Amazon site (for example) and get you to share personal information and credit card data. They do this by using that link to take you to a website that probably isn’t legitimate at all. It’s unfortunate that something so simple can fool so many people. But don’t feel bad – the scammers are really good! They make the link look believable and the pages themselves could really BE real pages from (again for the sake of example) Amazon or Target. Here’s a not-so-secret secret, though. If Amazon is really selling your dream item at this unbelievable price you don’t need that link to access it. Visit Amazon (or whatever site the link claims to represent) directly – just type the website into your browser without clicking on a link. Once there, search on the item you want to purchase. If it’s on sale the search will reveal the sale-priced item. Don’t risk clicking on those links.
Be Wary of Links On Facebook
An added layer of security, and one you should have some awareness of is HTTPS – when you look at a website’s address it looks like this: http://www.geekgirlsguide.com. But a site that uses SSL encryption for server verification and to encrypt the transfer of data will look like this: https://www.geekgirlsguide.com (don’t click on that-it’s just an example). Start noticing the S. Look for it AND the padlock when you want to share data and make purchases. Check here for a full explanation of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.
You might want to try to force a secure connection with every web interaction. You can do that by downloading and installing a plug-in that will do exactly that — literally force a secure connection with every (or as often as possible) website you visit. This is handy when you’re using public wi-fi. But it also helps to protect you from the danger of packet or data sniffing in which real criminals do engage. It is exactly what it sounds like – cyber thieves try to find holes in the data exchanges between your computer and the server where a website lives. They try to sniff out or grab any data they can that may be less than secure. Forcing this kind of connection is one additional way you can protect yourself from this kind of activity. One Firefox plug in that does this is Force TLS. If you’re a home user and you generally transmit data via an ethernet (or hard-wired) connection, this might be overkill. But if you use a laptop or other portable device and/or you tap into public wireless internet, do consider forcing that extra layer of security.
Choose Good Passwords
Security starts with you. In fact, your security starts with your passwords. The biggest favor you can do for yourself and your data is to select solid passwords. This means that you have to stop using your kid’s names, your dog’s names, your husband’s name. Start making up passwords that are truly hard to figure out. Longer strings of characters (letters, numbers and, in some instances, additional characters) — think about a 20 character password. I am not kidding. This is the primary thing that stands between you and criminals trying to get at your data. 20 characters might seem like a pain, but it’ll save you heartache and real true pain in the long run.
Many websites that require passwords help you rate the strength of your password when you create an account. There are also services online that are available via reputable brands and companies that provide a password strength rating service. Microsoft has one – search the Microsoft site and check your passwords to see if they are weak or not. You might be surprised at what you find.
Being safe on the web begins and ends with you, really. Understanding what to look for and hesitating when you have even the slightest doubt help you to avoid getting into trouble and losing your data to the ‘bad guys.’ There are no sure-fire ways to avoid being a victim of data theft. But the more you know, the more you can protect yourself.