Protect yourself online this holiday season
As we approach the eagerly anticipated holiday shopping season, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, it’s crucial for consumers to stay vigilant against the increasing tide of cyber-threats. While these shopping events offer tempting deals, they also present golden opportunities for cyber-criminals to exploit unsuspecting shoppers.
In this digital age, the responsibility to safeguard American consumers from such threats is shared by various U.S. agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
Under the Biden administration, there has been a noticeable rise in cyber-attacks targeting both retailers and consumers. This uptick necessitates an increased focus on cybersecurity, not just by the government and security agencies, but also by individuals. It’s a shared responsibility, where being informed and cautious plays a key role in defense.
Since early 2021, several new forms of cyber-attacks have emerged. One prominent method involves the creation of fake retail websites. These websites mimic legitimate online stores, offering high-demand products at significantly reduced prices. However, their real purpose is to steal sensitive personal and financial information from shoppers. Oftentimes, victims will not know they have been victimized until well after the attack has taken place and they receive their credit card statement.
Another growing concern is the various forms of adware that redirect consumers to fake merchandise sites. Unsuspecting users are lured away from legitimate online shopping platforms to these deceptive websites, where their information becomes vulnerable to theft.
Another common scam is related to solicitations from supposed email providers for users to change their password. The email in question takes users to a fake site that collects an individual’s sensitive information. Once aware, victims should immediately update their log-in credentials.
Social media users are also at a heightened risk this season, particularly Facebook account holders, as an innovative new malvertising scheme was observed launching around 140 NodeStealer ad campaigns adorned with appealing images of women that initiated the download of a malicious payload on to the user’s device. These incidents highlight the ever-present danger in the online shopping world and the need for constant vigilance.
CISA, the NSA, and other cybersecurity agencies play a pivotal role in protecting American consumers. Their responsibilities include monitoring cyber-threats, issuing warnings about new forms of attacks, and providing guidelines to both businesses and individuals on how to safeguard themselves against these threats.
For instance, CISA regularly publishes advisories and safety tips, especially during the holiday shopping season, to educate the public about potential cyber-threats. The NSA contributes by focusing on foreign cyber-threats and providing critical insights that help shape national cybersecurity strategies.
As consumers gear up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, here are some essential tips to help safeguard their personal and financial information:
Verify Website Authenticity: Before making a purchase, ensure that the website is legitimate. Check for correct URLs and look for trust seals.
Use Secure Payment Methods: Opt for credit cards or secure online payment services. Avoid using debit cards, as they offer fewer protections against fraud.
Be Wary of Too-Good-to-Be-True Deals: Extraordinary deals might be a trap. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Update Your Security Software: Keep your antivirus and anti-malware software updated to protect against the latest threats.
Use Strong Passwords: Create unique and complex passwords for different online accounts, and consider using a password manager.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication: This adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to access your accounts.
Monitor Your Accounts: Regularly check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions.
Beware of Phishing Emails: Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
Use a VPN on Public Wi-Fi: A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can provide a secure connection and protect your data on public networks.
Stay Informed: Follow updates from reputable cybersecurity agencies, and be aware of the latest scams.
Although this may be the “best time of the year,” the holiday shopping season, while full of exciting deals and offers, also brings with it a heightened risk of cyber-attacks. The collaborative efforts of U.S. agencies like CISA, the NSA, and others are crucial in mitigating these threats. Consumers must also play their part by staying informed and adopting safe online shopping practices. By doing so, we can all ensure a safer and more secure shopping experience.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, cybersecurity researcher, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, is regularly published by many of the most respected news organizations in the world.
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