The holidays are a time for family and friends, ritual and celebration. Unfortunately, they’ve also become a time for cybersecurity attacks that can put a serious crimp in your festive mood.
A report by software and solutions provider AppRiver found that there were 944 million quarantined messages containing malware in the first 11 months of 2015—and in December alone, there were an additional 705 million.
One reason for the December rush may simply be that more of us are online in December, whether we’re emailing, checking social media, or online shopping. But it’s also possible that hackers anticipate our increased holiday activities and ramp up their attacks accordingly.
Every year, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issues a holiday alert to remind people to be vigilant when browsing or shopping online. The types of online crimes you need to watch out for include several that take advantage of holiday traditions:
Beware of e-cards that come from unknown senders—they could contain malware.
For emails requesting donations to supposedly worthy causes, do your research to make sure the charity is real.
Avoid clicking on holiday advertisements, or any online ads. Instead, go to the advertised site directly.
Since criminals know you’ll probably be heading to the post office a lot over the holidays, watch out for fake shipping notices that could contain malware-laden attachments.
As these examples show, cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated. Instead of sending out generic spam messages, they’re targeting individuals and creating ads, emails, websites—you name it—that appear real. You may be able to spot some of these tricks during the rest of the year, but over the holidays your online habits probably change and you may be a little more tired and overwhelmed than usual.
The good news is that it’s not that difficult or time-consuming to defend yourself against holiday attacks. Simply follow these suggestions based on information from US-CERT:
Do business with reputable vendors—those you know, have done business with before, or have been referred to by a trusted source.
Make sure your online information is secure by looking for the “https:” in the site URL before you provide private details.
Be wary of emails requesting information such as your account information or Social Security number.
Use a credit card, which will tend to have more security protections than a debit card.
Check the privacy settings on your shopping apps, and limit the personal data you allow them to share.
Check your statements and keep receipts so you can notice and report discrepancies right away.
Check privacy policies before you give any business or nonprofit your personal or financial information.
Spend just a few minutes following these suggestions so you can relax and enjoy this beautiful time of year—and avoid the holiday hack-a-thon.