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A 1907 Christmas card with Santa and his reindeer. (Public Domain)

12 Tips of Christmas: Keeping Cyber-Grinches at Bay this Holiday Season

It’s important to remember that cybersecurity is a gift that keeps on giving, not just during the holidays but all year round

By Julio Rivera, November 20, 2023 7:12 am

As the Holiday Season rolls around, bringing with it the bustling excitement of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shoppers eagerly anticipate the deals and discounts that these days promise. However, in the midst of this holiday cheer, a less jolly element lurks in the digital shadows: cybercriminals. With a surge in online shopping, these nefarious actors deploy sophisticated schemes like phishing threats, ransomware strains, and annoying adware, to exploit the festive spirit. 

While cybercrime surges under the inept Biden administration, particularly during high-traffic shopping periods like the holidays, U.S. agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) play crucial roles in combating these threats. But as we deck the halls, it’s equally important for consumers to stay vigilant against these cyber Grinches.

Phishing schemes are particularly prevalent during the holiday season. Attackers craft emails and messages that mimic legitimate holiday promotions or charity campaigns. These messages lure unsuspecting shoppers into providing sensitive information or downloading malware. The festive themes and emotional appeals often used in these schemes make them especially effective during the holiday season.

Ransomware, a malicious software that locks users out of their systems or data until a ransom is paid, also sees an uptick during this period. Attackers might disguise ransomware in what appears to be a holiday-themed app or email attachment, preying on users’ eagerness for holiday deals or content.

Adware and browser hijackers are increasingly being used to redirect consumers to fraudulent websites offering too-good-to-be-true deals. These sites, adorned with holiday motifs and unbelievable offers, are traps for stealing credit card information and personal details. The festive disguise makes the scams less conspicuous, playing into the holiday shopping frenzy.

Another prevalent scam involves solicitations from supposed email providers that asks users to change their password. The email takes users to a fake website that collects the victim’s sensitive information. People often fall for this unfortunately, but once aware, they should immediately update their log-in credentials.

Even social media users are at a heightened risk between now and Christmas, particularly those with a Facebook account, as an insidious new malvertising strategy was observed launching around 140 NodeStealer ad campaigns adorned with images of attractive women that initiated the download of a malicious payload on to the user’s device. This new type of campaign highlights the ever-present danger in the online shopping world and the need for constant vigilance.

CISA, the NSA, and other cybersecurity entities are at the forefront of monitoring these threats and issuing guidance. Their role becomes increasingly critical during the holiday season, as they work to identify and alert the public about emerging cyber threats, helping both consumers and retailers navigate the digital landscape safely.

As we indulge in the holiday spirit and online shopping sprees, here are some advanced tips to keep our digital experiences merry and bright:

1. Heightened Alertness with Emails and Promotions

Scrutinize emails and offers carefully. Look for signs of phishing such as poor grammar, suspicious URLs, and requests for personal information.

2. Use Secure Payment Methods

Opt for payment methods with robust consumer protection, like virtual credit cards or secure online payment services.

3. Keep Devices Updated

Ensure that your devices are up-to-date with the latest security patches and software updates to ward off potential threats.

4. Create Strong, Distinct Passwords

Use unique, complex passwords for each of your online accounts. Regularly change these passwords, and consider using a password manager.

5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Add an additional layer of security to your accounts by enabling two-factor authentication wherever possible.

6. Monitor Financial Transactions

Regularly check your bank statements and credit card activity for any unauthorized transactions.

7. Be Cautious on Public Wi-Fi

Avoid conducting financial transactions on public Wi-Fi networks. If necessary, use a VPN to secure your connection.

8. Stay Informed About Cyber Threats

Keep up-to-date with the latest cybersecurity threats and scams by following updates from reputable cybersecurity agencies.

9. Avoid Clicking on Unsolicited Links

Be wary of clicking on links in unsolicited emails or messages, as they could lead to malicious websites or download malware.

10. Verify Retailer Authenticity

Shop only on legitimate and well-known websites. Double-check the website URLs to ensure they are correct and secure (look for HTTPS).

11. Be Skeptical of Unrealistic Deals

Exercise caution with offers that seem too good to be true. Often, these can be bait for phishing attacks or scams.

12. Backup Important Data

Regularly backup important data and files. In case of a cyber attack, you’ll have a secure copy of your data, minimizing potential losses.

By incorporating these 12 tips into your holiday shopping routine, you can enjoy the festive season’s shopping delights while keeping your digital self out of harm’s way. It’s important to remember that cybersecurity is a gift that keeps on giving, not just during the holidays but all year round. Stay safe and enjoy a happy, secure holiday season!

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