In the US, Thanksgiving traditionally marks the start of the holiday season, and most of us will open our hearts and minds (and wallets) just a bit more than we do during the rest of the year, and we let down our guard to enjoy the holiday spirit. Sadly, criminals and other malicious agents are also in the holiday mood, and count on the distractions of the season to really suck the joy out of the holidays. Here are some things you can do to make sure your holidays aren’t marred by the cyber Grinches:
- Stop opening email attachments
This is how the dreaded Cryptolocker virus gets onto your computer. If you receive an email from someone with an attachment that you weren’t expecting, pick up the phone and call that person to confirm that the attachment is legitimate. Hey, it’s holidays. Shouldn’t you be reaching out and touching someone anyways?
- Stop clicking links in emails
Just because you received an email from someone you know that has a link to the world’s funniest/scariest/cutest video does not mean you should click that link. At minimum, hover over the link to read where it’s really going to take you. Or pick up the phone and call that person to verify they sent the email in the first place, especially if the email seems to be out of character for the sender. Sensing a trend here? Wouldn’t you rather be on the phone catching up with an old friend rather than explaining to a bunch of angry relatives why you sent them a virus via email?
- Beware of fake Holiday Greeting cards, donation solicitations and other holiday-related spam
Hackers will be taking advantage of the increased volume of these types of emails. Observe rules #1 and #2, and watch out for poor grammar and out-of-character emails. Just received an X-mas ecard from someone you haven’t talked to recently? You guessed it…pick up the phone!
- Be careful with your personal data
Let’s say you knuckled under the pressure and clicked a link. The website you landed on is asking you for some personal information that seems relatively harmless: Birthdate, ZIP Code, last four of your Social Security number. Unless you are at the website with which you already do business (and have verified its that company’s actual website and not a fake one!), stop what you are doing and back away from the computer. Even these bits of data can be used as a digital wedge to get at other data from your personal life, which can lead to theft of both your money and identity.
- Put a password or pin on your phone
See last week’s article on why this is important, and how to do it. Don’t ask why, just do it. Trust me.
- Be less conspicuous about using your smartphone
Thieves are targeting smartphone users, especially iPhone users, because the devices are in high demand on the blackmarket, especially overseas where the phones can be reactivated without fear of being tracked. A protective case can help disguise your phone, but if you really want to blend in better, choose one that isn’t blinged out and brightly colored. That case that really helps you stand out in a crowd also paints a big target on you for thieves. Keep it in a deep pocket or a bag/purse that zips or latches shut so it will be less likely to accidentally fall out and picked up by someone looks for a free smartphone.
- Keep an eye on your laptop and/or tablet
A lot of us will be traveling during this time of year, and it’s becoming increasingly common to drag along our work laptop so we don’t get too far behind while visiting with family. You’d be surprised at the number of laptops lost/stolen in airports and rental car terminals, primarily because the owners are distracted and overburdened. Having to call your boss to tell them you lost your work laptop and all the data on it will make for a very stressful holiday. It’ll be even worse if you have to call clients to tell them you have lost their sensitive data or may have exposed them to a security risk.
- Where possible, don’t let online vendors store your credit card information
Up until very recently, most online stores assumed you wanted to keep your credit card “on file” with them for convenience on future purchases. While this is still the case, many now offer the option to remove that information, or to not store it in the first place. Given how many websites are being hacked these days, you may be better off not keeping that number on file, especially if it’s with a store you don’t frequent. Having to enter your credit card information once or twice is a trivial inconvenience as compared to having to replace all your credit cards because a website you bought something from years ago got hacked.
- Beware deals on technology “too low to be believed”
With technology, you get what you pay for 99% of the time, which is to say that if you got it cheap, it’s likely that it is cheap. That knock-off iPhone charger might have been a steal, but if it burns up your battery due to an electrical short, your $5 charger just cost you $500.
- Give yourself a gift this year: Back up your data
All hard drives fail eventually. Phones break, get lost or stolen. Viruses happen. If your data is important enough to save to a disk, it’s important enough to back up. There are online subscriptions that can take care of your most precious digital assets for pennies a day and are so simple to use that anyone who knows how to click a link can set up an account. You might not be able to keep the cyber Grinches at bay forever, but a good backup can take most of the sting out of worst virus infections or hardware failures.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.