Tips: Keep Your Identity Safe On Cyber Monday

Timberline Interactive predicts that online holiday sales will increase by 15 percent this year. It’s a good bet that one of the busiest days of online shopping will be “Cyber Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving, when many online retailers have enticing sales. With increased online shopping, of course, come increased opportunities for hackers intent on identity theft. Todd Feinman, CEO of Identity Finder, shared some tips for keeping your personal information secure on Cyber Monday.

Before you make any purchases on Cyber Monday, make sure all your software is up to date. It’s tempting to keep clicking “ignore,” swearing you’ll download those updates later, but you really shouldn’t. As soon as these patches come out, hackers use them to reverse-engineer methods for getting into the computers that haven’t been updated. And it’s not just for your operating system and browser; an outdated version of a plug-in such as Flash can act as a portal that lets identity-stealing viruses onto your computer. Around Cyber Monday, these sites tend to take the form of sale “preview” sites, claiming to provide advance ads or coupon codes for the sales while actually infecting your computer.

Make sure you’re shopping over a secure connection. While you’re checking out, double-check the URL. Does it begin with https? Good; that extra “s” means it’s a secure connection. Another way to tell if your connection is secure is to look for the tiny padlock icon. In Internet Explorer and Firefox, it’s in the bottom right corner; in Chrome it’s right next to the URL. Shopping on an unsecured connection makes it easy for hackers to steal your information, even if you’re on a legitimate website.

Remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sometimes, malicious sites will advertise the year’s hard-to-get “it” item -- the iPad, for example, or the Xbox Kinect -- at an unbelievable price, asking you, as many sites do, to make a username and password in order to purchase. Not only will you not get the good at the great price, but also those behind the site can then take that same username-password combination and try it at banks across the country with the hope that you use the same set of passwords everywhere.

There are two corollaries to this. The first is to make sure you use different passwords for every website. Though it sounds unreasonable, given that almost every site these days wants you to become a member, a password manager is a great tool for keeping track of this plethora of passwords. It securely tracks of all your passwords across the Web, requiring from you only one password to unlock it.

The second is to consider using a onetime-use credit card. Most banks will issue you a card number good for only one transaction. If you do accidentally use it on a malicious site, you’re only out the cost of the good; not your whole bank account.

About the Author

Laura Williams is content development editor for Security Products magazine.

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