The National Retail Federation estimates that online and other non-store sales during the holiday season will increase from $146.5 billion last year to over $162.6 billion this year. Retailers are making it easier than ever to buy everything online as people overall are expected to spend 59 percent of their 2019 holiday shopping budgets online according to Deloitte findings. As online retailers see greater traffic, hackers are also finding increased opportunities to exploit consumers. Cybercriminals are primed for easy targets for their latest phishing, ransomware, credit card fraud, and identity theft schemes.

While cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated, there are still many ways that consumers can better protect themselves during the holiday shopping season. By practicing the right habits, consumers can be more secure from online scams. Continue reading to learn a few best practices to follow when conducting online shopping.

Update Your Devices and Applications
One of the easiest things that consumers can do to boost their digital security is to ensure that all of their devices are running the latest software versions. Software providers continually update their products to patch reported bugs and increase user security. Consumers that do not upgrade their devices and applications leave themselves vulnerable to hackers that prey on older, unpatched systems.

Strengthen Weak Passwords and Enable Two-Factor Authentication
With digital fraud at a record high, it is important to keep your accounts and data safe. According to a 2017 Verizon report, 81 percent of hacking-related breaches leveraged stolen and/or weak passwords. Consumers should create complex passwords that utilize numbers, special symbols, and letters to increase security against brute force attacks. Users should also consider enabling 2-factor authentication (2FA) to build an additional layer of security to the login process. 2FA requires a time-sensitive confirmation which decreases the likelihood of impersonation. Through the use of 2FA, 80 percent of data breaches could be eliminated according to a Symantec study.

Be Wary of Free WiFi and Check URLs
Consumers traveling during the holidays should use as few public WiFi networks as possible and opt for secure, home networks or personal hotspots when browsing the web. No public WiFi network is completely secure but users in a pinch should stick to well-known networks such as at Starbucks for a safer connection. While you can access WiFi in more places than ever before, users should be aware of the potential data threats on every public network.

Consumers should also check every site for encrypted HTTPS webpages, especially on public WiFi. On unencrypted HTTP connections, other users can see the data that travels between you and the server of the website you are connecting to. When entering confidential data, check for visual cues that indicate a secure site, such as a lock symbol and green color in the address bar indicating a secure socket layer (SSL). By verifying the encryption of the webpage, you are protecting your personal information from cybercriminals.

Avoid Deals That Are Too Good To Be True
Everyone loves a good sale, including scammers. By targeting consumers online and through social media, cybercriminals are baiting consumers into clicking links that may include malware. To steer clear of fake sale scams, users should beware of off-brand URLs and avoid clicking through the suspicious link. To ensure that you are shopping through a legitimate site, start by using the company’s home page and then finding the sales from there. If you decide to purchase through an ad, consider using your credit card or a third-party payment vendor. Credit cards make it easier to dispute fraudulent charges with and third-party methods, such as Venmo or PayPal, will keep your account info protected even when services are compromised. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Stevenson University Online’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics provides an advanced education for experienced information technology professionals interested in the analysis of forensically collected and acquired digital evidence. Our graduate program trains technology professionals to preserve, acquire, analyze, interpret, and document critical forensic findings for use in legal and computer security proceedings. Our Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics program prepares cybersecurity and digital forensics professionals to respond to the growing demand and confront these attacks. Our bachelor’s program provides students with the ability to develop security policies for organizations and the skills to mitigate the effects on a network infrastructure due to a cyber-attack. Graduates will be equipped to evaluate an end-to-end computer forensics investigation and prepare a digital forensics evidence report.

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