Importance of Mobile Online Safety as More Americans Shop From Smartphones This Holiday Season

With the approach of the holiday shopping season and Cyber Monday, a new survey released this week demonstrates the importance of mobile online safety as more businesses and consumers are taking part in digital shopping via smartphones. This week, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee released their annual home user study, revealing insights about how our digital shopping practices and behaviors could impact our online safety and our nation’s collective digital infrastructure.

The survey, conducted for NCSA and McAfee by Zogby International on a wide variety of online safety topics, showed that consumers in greater numbers will utilize their smartphones or other mobile devices to browse online stores, research products and goods, and make purchases. Some of the mobile shopping trends highlighted by the study include:

  • In the last six months, 50 percent of Americans have researched potential purchases, 27 percent have shopped, 18 percent have made online payments and 12 percent have purchased goods from auction sites from their smartphone at least once.
  • Three in four (75 percent) smartphone users access the Internet more frequently on their devices today than they did one year ago, and 23 percent have added an app for banking to the smartphone in the last six months.
  • Despite the increased adoption of mobile activities, 72 percent of those polled admit to having no security software. According to McAfee researchers, the number of new mobile malware in 2010 increased by 46 percent compared with 2009, and mobile malware is expected to affect more than 1 in 20 devices within the next 12 to 24 months.

These numbers demonstrate a continued trend of Americans shopping from their smartphones in larger numbers as last year’s report showed activities of researching potential purchases from their phones at only 16 percent and those making online payments at 8 percent.

While online shopping is an increasingly popular activity, consumers are approaching their online transactions with some caution. Additional findings from the study include:

  • Two fifths (42 percent) say that in the past year, they have stopped or abandoned a purchase on a website because of a safety or security concern.
  • Majorities say they have stopped or abandoned a purchase because they were not sure the website was secure (56 percent) or because the site requested more information than they thought was necessary (53 percent).

“These findings illustrate our ever-increasing reliance on mobile technology in our daily lives. Technology has enabled us to enhance our shopping experience with the ability to research pricing, reviews, and product purchase options with ease not previously possible,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “With this new convenience comes a new responsibility to practice vigilance this shopping season. People must be aware of the risks they face when making purchases online and ensure that they are using sound judgment to protect their personal information and prevent the loss of data.”

"Users on all devices can run into threats from online criminals," said Todd Gebhart, co-president of McAfee. "Online shoppers are being cautious with their purchase behavior, but cyber threats have also grown more sophisticated and widespread than ever before. Mobile threats are growing exponentially, and this new survey illustrates the need for consumers to protect all of their devices—including smartphones and tablets."

McAfee recently released a list of the most popular scams on the Internet during the holiday season. Consumers can find them here: https://blogs.mcafee.com/consumer/mcafee-twelve-scams-of-christmas.

As we prepare for Cyber Monday and a holiday season of increased online shopping, NCSA advises that everyone take a moment to practice safe cyber behaviors. As part of the first nationwide cyber security and online safety awareness campaign launched last year, NCSA recommends that everyone should STOP.THINK.CONNECT. before connecting to the Internet. These simple steps apply to everyone who connects to the Internet, whether from laptops, personal computers, mobile phones, or gaming consoles. Before you connect to the Internet, take a moment to evaluate that you're prepared to share information or engage in a larger community. The STOP.THINK.CONNECT. awareness campaign offers the following five tips to ensure stronger online safety this holiday season:

Keep a Clean Machine:

  • Keep security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
  • Automate software updates: Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that's an available option.
  • Protect all devices that connect to the Internet: Along with computers, smartphones, gaming systems, and other web-enabled devices also need protection from viruses and malware.
  • Plug & scan: "USBs" and other external devices can be infected by viruses and malware. Use your security software to scan them.

Protect Your Personal Information:

  • Secure your accounts: Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you conduct business on that site.
  • Create Strong Passwords: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password. When opening new accounts, use long and strong passwords.
  • Provide Only Essential Personal Information: Only provide the minimal amount of information needed to complete a transaction. When providing personal information for any purchase or other reason, ensure that you know who is asking for the information, and why they need it.
  • Unique account, unique password: Separate passwords for every account helps to thwart cybercriminals.
  • Write it down and keep it safe: Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that's stored in a safe, secure place away from your computer.
  • Own your online presence: When available, set the privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. It's ok to limit who you share information with.

Connect with Care:

  • When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it's best to delete or, if appropriate, mark as junk email.
  • Get savvy about Wi-Fi hotspots: Limit the type of business you conduct and adjust the security settings on your device to limit who can access your machine.
  • Protect your $$: When banking and shopping, check to be sure the websites you visit are security enabled. Look for web addresses with "https://" or "shttp://", which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. "Http://" is not secure.
  • Be Aware of Holiday Shopping Gimmicks: Be mindful of holiday shopping efforts to lure you. Cyber crooks will adjust to the holiday season, trying to get you to click through to deals that may appear too good to be true. They may also try to trick you by sending emails that something has gone wrong with an online purchase.

Be Web Wise:

  • Know the Seller: Research online retailers before a first time purchase from a merchant (or auction seller) new to you. Search to see how others have rated them, and check their reviews. Do these things even if you are a return customer, as reputations can change.
  • Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, and share with friends, family, and colleagues and encourage them to be web wise.
  • Think before you act: Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information.
  • Back it up: Protect your valuable work, music, photos, and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely.

Be a Good Online Citizen:

  • Safer for me more secure for all: What you do online has the potential to affect everyone – at home, at work and around the world. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.
  • Post only about others as you have them post about you.
  • Help the authorities fight cyber crime: Report stolen finances or identities and other cybercrime to www.ic3.gov (Internet Crime Complaint Center), the Federal Trade Commission at http://onguardonline.gov/file-complaint (if it's fraud), and to your local law enforcement or state attorney general as appropriate.

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