How to Stay Safe and Celebrate This Holiday Week

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner and hopefully you will be spending quality time with your family, friends and loved ones. Ideally, that means less screen time and fewer emails. Realistically, we’re all still connected — especially when Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber ​​Monday come along.

However, even simple online shopping and scrolling through social media can be dangerous. Email, web, and text-based scams are always on the rise this time of year as hackers try to take advantage of increased digital activity and reduced cybersecurity awareness.

Security experts estimate that one-third of all Americans were the target of known phishing attempts in 2020, when consumers expected more marketing and promotional emails from retailers. When inboxes are at their highest ever, it’s easier for cybercriminals to push their malicious messages to an unsuspecting user. This news often encourages too good to be true sales and a “Click Now!” mentality that is easily manipulated.

Consumers may also be looking for regular shipping and delivery notifications, two tactics regularly used by hackers trying to trick people into opening malicious attachments. Anyone who falls for one of these tricks could go from an excited shopper to a ransomware victim in seconds—especially if distracted by other holiday pleasures.

These time-sensitive systems are also commonly used against individuals working in seasonally specific industries such as retail, shipping, and manufacturing. Most of these industries suffer from significant global supply chain disruptions just as they enter their busiest time of the year. Employees in these sectors can become overworked, distracted, or dealing with frustrated customers, causing them to let go of their own vigilance.

Hackers have proven particularly adept at using this to their advantage, creating sophisticated phishing scams and cleverly worded socially engineered messages in the hopes that a stressed employee will overlook these obvious clues and comply with illegal requests.

Many businesses aren’t waiting for Black Friday to kick off their holiday shopping season, and this year are urging customers to place orders and fulfill wish lists sooner rather than later. That means deal emails will be compressed as early as Halloween and online order windows to late November and early December. As we’ve seen with other holidays, this behavior is unlikely to return to previous patterns, permanently extending the time frame in which consumers should remain vigilant about shopping-related scams.

COVID-19 has forced most of us to rely on virtual connections with family, friends and colleagues. If you’re scheduling a FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype call with distant relatives, loved ones, or work friends, make sure you’re using a secure internet connection. If you are planning a video conference with many participants, make sure this is done via a password-protected link. “Zoom-bombing,” the online offhand for uninvited or unwelcome participants disrupting an online call, occurs over the holidays — and has increased over the last year during the pandemic. If you’re planning on chatting up older relatives who aren’t as tech-savvy, make a practice call first to make them more comfortable.

Before you click an offer email to start shopping online, hover your mouse over the link—or click and hold on mobile—to make sure it’s the URL of a trusted brand. Or, even safer, manually enter the webpage you want to visit, then make sure it loads with “https” – the extra “s” stands for “secure” – or a lock symbol in the URL Address. This shows that personal data is passed through an additional layer of security before the purchase begins. NEVER open an unexpected attachment from an unfamiliar email address as they can instantly load malware or ransomware onto your device.

When shopping online, use credit cards instead of debit cards whenever possible. Credit cards typically offer additional layers of fraud monitoring, dispute procedures, and other protections. If you’re shopping in person, make sure you keep your cards safe and secure at checkout by shielding the number when you’re typing to buy or blocking the keypad when you’re entering your PIN. During intense retail activity, keep a close eye on your financial, email, and social media accounts for any unusual activity that could result from compromised information. And NEVER click on any too good to be true pop-up ads – they will inevitably lead you to a fake external website that could install malware on your device or steal your credentials.

If problems do arise during the Christmas season, the easiest way to avoid serious negative consequences is to use reliable data backup. When you back up business or personal data regularly, remotely and redundantly, any external infection or data disruption can be mitigated by reverting to a copy of critical information, ideally stored in separate cloud-based and physical locations. Without this simple step, a click on a bad email or a slip with a credit card can easily annihilate consumers and businesses.

This holiday season, let’s embrace technology forever and rely on staying connected with family, friends and loved ones while remaining vigilant to the threats posed by increased online activity. Hopefully you’ll find time to log off and disconnect while you give thanks for the friends beside us, the food ahead of us and the love between us – this week and for the rest of 2021.

Have questions? Contact CMIT Solutions today.

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