Holiday Deal or Easy Target?

Holiday shopping season is in high gear. The National Retail Federation reported that 28.7 million shoppers (present company included) shopped online on Thanksgiving Day, and spent an average of $150.53 dollars shopping online Black Friday weekend. 57.1% of surveyed users of smart phones and tablets reported they will shop or research their purchases via a mobile device (source: NRF).

We are all looking for the best deals in stores and online—and cyber-criminals want a piece of the action. Malicious emails and bogus websites that imitate authentic online retailers threaten home and business computer networks. They have even infiltrated search engines by showing up high in the search results to capture your attention. If you want to keep yourself up all night worrying, read more on the dangers here (source).

Some basics to look out for this holiday season (and always):

Beware of Unsolicited Email Offers. Check that the sender is authentic, i.e., was it sent from the actual retailer that it claims? Do this by looking at the “from” address. Does this look like it actually came from that retailer (example: sales@amazon.com – looks good), or did it come from an Eastern European domain name (example: me_badguy@amazzon.net/cz – likely fake)?

Bad Links. Before you click on a link from another site, search engine or email, check the URL by mousing over links to see if the link is actually going to where you want to go (example: http://www.amazon.com (good), http://www.amazzon.net/cz (bad).

Search Engine Results. If the search engine has been compromised, the domain link displayed may look like an authentic site. If you notice something looks odd, go directly to the retailer’s site by typing their web address into your browser rather that clicking on the link in the search results.

Pre-flight Checklist. Before flying, a pilot must make sure the plane is airworthy. Make sure your computer is in good working order by making sure your anti-virus software is running and signatures are up to date (you are running anti-virus software, right?); don’t surf the web in an administrator account; make sure your system has current security patches; and if  your system is behaving unusually, don’t ignore–investigate. This is a little more involved so we’ll blog more on this in a future post.

Caveat: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. These tips are equal to making sure to lock your car door to keep thieves away. The smartest thieves will attack cars with unlocked doors and keys in the ignition.

Safe shopping friends!

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