Cybersecurity is top of mind for many business leaders thanks in part to Ransomwares like WannaCry and HIPAA data breaches being in the headlines nearly every month this year. With that in mind and Cyber Monday around the corner, we put together this list of ways consumers can protect themselves from identity theft, hacked accounts, and cybercrimes.
Every method and piece of advice on this list is free, requiring consumers to take a step back or have a wary eye for small details.
Top 10 Ways Consumers Can Protect Themselves on Cyber Monday
- Shop at Reputable Websites – Just as you wouldn’t walk into a shady, run-down retail store that was an obvious knock-off of a major store, you need to stay with the names you know. Many hackers will spoof a major brand’s website with a look-alike website to catch people not paying attention. As you browse top 10 lists of gift ideas and top deals, be suspicious of links to unknown websites. Look at the small details like the website address. For example, Target.com shouldn’t be misspelled. If something doesn’t feel right, try to find the product somewhere trustworthy.
- Confirm the Website is Secure – Make sure all your online purchases are made on a secure website by looking at your browser’s address bar to see the “s” in https:// and you should also see a padlock icon.
- Use a Credit Card – In case you do make a bad purchase, a credit card gives you better protection, is more likely to refund your money, and creates a gap between the hacker and your bank account. When using a debit card, you don’t get the same benefits as a credit card and a hacker can do more damage with access to your checking account, like emptying the entire thing.
- Create Strong Passwords & Change Them Periodically – You need to have a strong password because hackers have scripts that try to log into popular websites, especially email providers, with easy-to-remember passwords like “Password123” or “0987654321”. Just adding a symbol, makes your password much harder to guess, and not using a word is even better. Do not use the same password for your social media, email, and other accounts because if a hacker gets access to your email, they can get access to everything else. Also, you should change your passwords periodically because a breach may happen months before the public knows. Even better, utilize multi-factor authentication settings where a website, such as Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook, text a verification number to your phone to prove ownership. This extra step makes it significantly harder for a hacker to access your account because they’d have to know your password and have your phone to verify.
- Don’t Click on Emails You’re Not Expecting – If you didn’t order anything from UPS, then don’t click on a link to track a package. Sounds simple enough, but hackers are betting that you won’t pay attention, you’ll be in a rush, or that your curiosity will get the best of you, so you click on a link without thinking about it. You’ll obviously get a slew of marketing and promotional emails this time of year, do not click on links from companies you did not subscribe to in the first place.
- Don’t Click Password Reset Links – Most importantly, do not click on links requesting you to reset your password unless you actually requested to reset your password. Hackers will commonly spoof password reset emails trying to fool you into providing them your username and password. They especially want the password to your bank and email accounts.
- Watch Out for Too-Good-to-Be-True Offers – You’ll see some great offers for Cyber Monday and Black Friday, but you’ll still need to go with your gut and use common sense to not fall for free tablets, smartphones, TV, or buy 1 get 10 free offers. The same holds true for contests, prize promotions, and other freebies.
- Be Cautious of Downloads – If you’re buying a virtual product like a digital book, movie, or subscription, purchase from reputable online stores like the Apple Store or Google’s Marketplace. Additionally, look out for files that automatically download when you click a link, especially when you didn’t expect to download anything.
- Stay Off Public Wi-Fi – One of hackers’ favorite tricks is to hack an unsecure Wi-Fi connection at coffee shops and record your keystrokes, including your usernames and passwords. Hackers also spoof public wireless networks, such as creating a fake network called “Coffee Customers” when the real network is called “Coffee Guests”. It is best to avoid free Wi-Fi, even if you need to use your phone as a hot spot for a short time.
- Don’t Keep a Paper Trail – Keep your paperwork private. If you print receipts, don’t leave them on a shared printer at work or loose in your car. Keep receipts, paperwork, credit card and bank statements out of the eyes of other people, including at home when you have house guests.
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself online is to be aware, just like you would be cautious and pay attention to details in the physical world.