Following my advice for a "cyber-safe summer," I also have some thoughts for the upcoming holiday season:
Online retailers are gearing up for the biggest shopping day of the year. With more consumers doing their holiday shopping online, additional compute resources and warehouses bulging with inventory ensure that shoppers won’t experience any delays in finding what they want, or making online transactions.
Unfortunately, merchants and shoppers aren’t the only ones getting ready. The holiday shopping season is also a big event for cybercriminals. Fake web sites, intercepting your financial data, charity scams, email phishing attacks, fake shopping sites, texting and SMS scams, and more are all designed to steal you personal and financial information.
So, in addition to checking your credit card balances and making out your shopping lists, you also need to take precautions before doing your holiday shopping online. If done right, it can be a safe and convenient way to buy gifts – if you follow a few simple rules.
In just the past few weeks we learned that WPA2, the encryption protocol used to protect data moving between a computer and the wireless device that connects it to the Internet has been broken. Which means you may want to think twice about doing your online shopping using the public Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop.
And that’s just the start.
Public W-Fi sites are a haven for criminals looking intercept your connection and use it to steal your credit card information, passwords, and other personal data. For example, that guy over in the corner with his laptop open is broadcasting his device as “Free Coffeshop Wi-Fi.” Which means that when you connect to it, he then connects you to the Internet through his device. Which means he can capture all the traffic moving between you and your online shopping site, bank, or social media accounts.
In addition, your phone is always searching for the wireless devices you usually connect to. Once your phone finds a familiar network it will automatically try to connect to it. But there are now tools out there that can detect the name of the devices your phone is searching for and mimic them, allowing a hacker to use that fake connection to steal your data. So be aware of the name of the wireless device you are connected to. If you are in a coffee shop at the mall, and your device thinks it is connected to your home wireless network, then someone is probably trying to steal your data.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself when shopping online.
If you are shopping at an unfamiliar online store, then you may want to take precautions:
As our ability to purchase items, make online transactions, and connect to others through smart devices gets easier, we need to understand that these conveniences come with risks. Cybercriminals are determined and informed on the latest trends and how to exploit them. Which is why we need to take the time to educate ourselves - and our friends and family – about shopping carefully so we can have a happy, and safe Holiday season.
Originally appeared in Huffington Post.