shopping safelyOne of the great pleasures of the holiday season is giving great gifts to the ones we love. And what better way to find the perfect gift than to shop online? There are so many online stores … and no lines! But shopping online brings its own challenges. The haste, stress and excitement of holiday shopping can make it easy to slip up on cybersecurity. Don’t let your inner Kris Kringle make you fall victim to cybercrime!

The “security” part of cybersecurity can sometimes throw people off. You might not think you are important enough for a cybercriminal to target you. Or maybe you feel you don’t have the time and resources to protect yourself. Although most people associate “security” with a bodyguard, that’s doesn’t quite translate to cybersecurity. Instead, we like to think of cybersecurity as hygiene. Stay secure online the same way you stay healthy: keep up good habits and routines, have the right equipment, stay tidy and up to date, take your time and, if necessary, call in an expert. As part of our Cybersecurity Awareness series, we’re detailing how you can make cybersecurity your online hygiene as you shop for the holidays.

Make it a routine

While criminals may be more active around the holidays, it’s important to practice good cybersecurity habits all year — partly because information can be stolen any time of year and partially because if you already built up good habits, you’ll be less likely to make a mistake due to fatigue, haste or because you are otherwise frazzled by the holiday season. You don’t shower once a year and expect to smell like roses, so you shouldn’t do the same when it comes to cybersecurity. If you haven’t made cybersecurity part of your routine in the past, you can start this holiday season by following the advice noted below, as it’s the time of the year when thieves are always on their toes.

Have the right equipment

We bet you don’t use a loofah to brush your teeth, and just like hygiene, it’s important to have the right tool for cybersecurity. That’s why it’s best to make your holiday purchases with a credit card. Not only do credit cards offer more fraud protection (up to $50 — or less if your card has $0 fraud liability — in the event of unauthorized or inaccurate charges), but they also provide a number of added protections. Many cards go even further and offer a variety of additional protections. While you have some recourse with debit account as well, it is a much more difficult ordeal to recover from having your savings stolen than reporting improper credit charges.

Add to the layers of security, if you can, by having two or more credit cards. Dedicate one credit card to online purchases (which are more vulnerable) and use a different card for in-person payments. By doing so, you will be able to deactivate or temporarily block the card you use for online shopping in the event of fraud without disrupting your everyday payments and subscriptions.

Stay tidy and up to date

Most things in life require some upkeep. You surely wash your dishes and clothes and, from time to time, you discard the old and bring in upgrades. Your cybersecurity requires some refreshing as well. Hackers look for weaknesses in software and, to combat that, software is constantly revamped and improved to remove loopholes. Update your software to make it as difficult as possible to hack.

While you’re at it, do a little holiday cleaning and tidy up your digital home. Throw out that old password and get a newer, sturdier one. Make sure that you aren’t storing passwords or other personal information on websites. Delete applications that you don’t use off of your phone and computer. Each application and site that stores data about you becomes an additional place for your information to be stolen from. Your most underused applications or devices may be particularly dangerous because if you aren’t using them, you probably aren’t updating them either. Just by getting rid of things you already weren’t using, something we call a cybersecurity tune-up, you’ll shore up your defenses and tighten your attack surface.

Take your time

You can’t rush through your health and hygiene processes and expect the perfect results. You probably don’t feel as rested after four hours of sleep as opposed to eight. If you rush through brushing your teeth and skip flossing, your teeth won’t be as clean. We know that the holiday season is a busy time for everyone — and that can make it hard for you to take your time while shopping online — but your haste is exactly what cybercriminals are banking on!

When you are inattentive, you may miss important (but small) details. Little details make all the difference on the Internet. It’s often small discrepancies, not sophisticated hacking, that cybercriminals use to get your information. So take the same care you take in choosing your holiday gifts and watch out for the following:

“S” for secure

Criminals will try to get your information by getting you to either enter it into an insecure location or provide it to them directly. So what isn’t secure? One thing you want to confirm is the S at the end of HTTPS. You should avoid entering any information (even if it’s just your email) into web pages that just say “HTTP” in the URL. That extra S means that your information will be encrypted as it is sent to the website. If your information isn’t encrypted, meaning you’re using an HTTP site, it’s possible for the information to be viewed by anyone and used for nefarious purposes.

Public isn’t private

Another way that your information can become public is when you enter it into public devices (public computers, for example) or when you use public Wi-Fi. Because the Wi-Fi is freely accessible, someone with the right tools could see your activity and capture important information. A hacker may even host the free Wi-Fi themselves, designing it to look like another, more innocuous Wi-Fi option, such as an airport network. Speaking of fakes …

Cheap Knockoffs

Watch out for knockoffs. Just like you wouldn’t want to pay full price for a fake product, don’t let visiting a fake site cost you! The safest approach is to use websites and brands you trust. Know the website you are looking for and make sure the URL matches. Small typos or differences (e.g., Google.com vs. Goggle.com) could mean that the website is a spoof of the real site meant to convince you to enter your information.

In addition to fake websites, you should be watch out for phishing emails. You may receive emails in which the sender pretends to be someone you know, a retailer or anything else that might get your guard down. Be careful about giving your information or clicking on links when you aren’t sure of the sender. If you want to learn more about a special sale you learn about via email, open your browser and manually type in the store’s URL. And those advertisements and pop-ups that look too good to be true? They probably are! Be careful not to click before you look and think carefully. They may be fake ads that load malicious extensions.

Call in an expert

We all generally rely on experts to some degree in our personal health. Whether that’s regular checkups with our doctors and dentists or when a serious health issues come along. Take the same approach with cybersecurity. You should have some form of virus and malware protection to act as your regular check in. A pop-up or ad blocker is something we also recommend for those nasty malware ads.

If your precautions fail and online holiday shopping leads to someone stealing your identity, it’s time to call in the experts. Report the theft to identitytheft.gov and follow their recovery plan. You can also get additional ongoing identity protection and credit monitoring services to help you bounce back.

Now you know a bit about cybersecurity and how to safely shop online this holiday season. Keep up with the best holiday shopping tools through our credit card blog. Want to learn more about cybersecurity? Follow our technology blog and keep up with our Cybersecurity Awareness series.