With the holildays right around the corner, there is no shortage of holiday advertisements in the ‘ole email inbox tempting us with special deals and offers for that perfect gift. Some of us embrace the online shopping experience to avoid the crowds of shoppers, while others may be a little wary. Regardless of which category you fall into, online security with some technical and digital common sense can keep everyone safe, secure and happily shopping during the holidays and throughout the year.
The Common Sense:
Know who you’re buying from! The majority of those holiday emails come from reputable businesses and shouldn’t pose much of a threat, but use caution when you’re gift hunting turns to web searches. The more obscure the gift, the smaller the seller and possibly the less reputable and more questionable. To help avoid the potential for fraud, there are websites with customer reviews and ratings of smaller retailers designed to highlight the trustworthy sellers. Ebay.com, while synonymous with online auctions, is probably the most well-known site like this. Users can rate the seller based on their experience, good or bad. Those sellers with low ratings should be avoided. Amazon.com is another big player in the consumer to consumer market. If they don’t have the item you’re looking for they will direct you to a registered seller, complete with customer reviews. Etsy.com is a smaller website that specializes in handmade, custom goods with a huge network of highly talented artists. This is a personal favorite as it supports the smaller seller/artist while maintaining the ratings and review system of the bigger sites like Amazon and Ebay.
The first line of defense is anti-virus/anti-malware software. According to Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report, 24% of the world’s computers are unprotected! Chances are someone is reading this right now on an unprotected computer. Whether or not you plan on shopping online, anti-virus protection is a necessity in today’s world. Computer viruses and malicious software (malware) are very real. At the very least these digital nasties will lock up your computer and at their worst, they can erase your data or steal your personal information. These threats are not limited to just your computer. With tablets and smart phones taking over the online world, more and more threats are emerging targeting your mobile devices. Many anti-virus software companies offer bundled protection for your computer as well as your mobile device. The price of this software varies depending on what level of protection is required, but there is also free software, such as AVG, that will keep you protected. If you find yourself confused by the multiple anti-virus options, let me know and I would be happy to help you find an appropriate solution. Bottom line: protect yourself.
Another important and often overlooked defense is keeping your computer and software updated. Those pop-ups that tell you a Java or Adobe update is ready to be installed are there for a reason. These software updates not only fix bugs in the software, they also patch security holes that hackers have exploited. This year, Java, a major software component that is used in web browsers, was compromised. The vulnerability was so wide spread that the US Department of Homeland Security was advising people to temporarily disable the software. Oracle, the company that develops the Java software, identified the vulnerability and immediately released a software update, or “patch”, to fix it. If you’re one of those people who ignored that software update, you could still be at risk. On the flip side of this, some computers are infected through fake software updates. It’s important to know what software you have on your computer and to pay attention to the software updates you are downloading. If you get a notification that there is an update and you’re unsure what it’s for, just Google it! More than likely, it’s a legitimate update but if it’s not, generally a quick web search will let you know.
Online shopping can be a little scary in the world of ID theft and fraudulent transactions, but with the proper precautions you can enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your home, without fighting the holiday crowds. Online shopping also opens up a world of options that can’t be found in typical retail stores. Also, be sure to take advantage of free shipping and online coupon codes that can be found at sites such as www.coupons.com or by a simple Google search: company name online coupons! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me a firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 843-705-5544. Happy Holidays and safe shopping!
The Bedminster Group