Don’t let Black Friday be a dark day for security

Tony Anscombe, ESET global security evangelist

While Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and friends, recent survey data from the National Retail Federation shows that 69 percent of Americans (that’s 164 million people) are planning or considering shopping for the holiday. The long Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has retailers lowering prices and creating promotions to tempt us to part with our hard-earned cash.

According to the survey, 70 percent of people plan to shop on Black Friday and 48 percent on Cyber Monday. Some have already started; if your inbox is like mine, then the pre-Black Friday deals have been appearing at least a week in advance.

Unfortunately, as with any major event, cybercriminals will also grab the opportunity to make more money with fraudulent phishing emails, scams and fake websites. And data breaches, such as the one reported recently by retailer Forever 21, can expose your personal information and payment card data. So stay vigilant and follow these 10 tips:

  1. If you see an offer in a promotional email or in search results that is too good to be true, then it probably is. Finding an item from an unrecognized vendor with the best price and immediate shipping is cause for concern. Limit your online shopping to websites of online retailers that you recognize and trust.
  2. Always look for the padlock and the https:// at the beginning of the website address (see example), which indicate that communication between you and the site is encrypted and any data you send can’t be seen by anyone intercepting the traffic.
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  1. Don’t make purchases while using public Wi-Fi networks, as they are indeed “public.” Hackers can lurk on public networks and intercept traffic or redirect you to sites that may look like the one you expected but are fake. Also, in public places, someone can look over your shoulder and copy your password and account information as you type it in.

    If you need to make a purchase when not at a secure Wi-Fi location (such as your home), utilize your cell phone’s mobile network—not a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Using your cell phone’s mobile network provides a private internet connection.
  2. When paying for items, use secure services like Apple Pay, Android Pay, PayPal or other trusted payment methods. Never use a debit or credit card that is linked to your primary bank account. If you are using a credit card, make sure it has a low spending limit to reduce the risk of fraud.
  3. Be cautious of email offers. Cyber criminals can create elaborate phishing campaigns that look like those of a trusted brand, but actually take you to a fake site. Instead, open a browser and type the website address in yourself.
  4. Never over-share personal data. If you don’t purchase often from a retailer, check out as a guest rather than creating an account. Reducing the number of people storing your data will help reduce your risk of being affected by a breach. Limit shared data to the essentials—it’s unlikely a site needs your SSN so don’t include it.
  5. If you do create an account, choose to protect it with two-step authentication. This ensures that in addition to requiring a password, the company will text a code to you to verify your identity.
  6. Review bank and credit card statements to ensure your account has not been compromised. You can also “opt-in” to smartphone notifications of transactions.
  7. Keep your devices up to date and have security software installed and fully operational. Software updates fix known vulnerabilities, so be sure to install them when prompted. Use security software such as ESET Internet Security, which includes features to keep you safe while banking and shopping online.
  8. My last tip for sensible cyber shopping: think twice about purchasing that bargain. Is it something you really need—or are you being tempted to buy something you’ll never use?

Combining these tips with good old-fashioned common sense will help you stay safe and enjoy your shopping. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!