Stay Cyber Safe This Holiday Season

November 23, 2016

Holiday shopping season is upon us with deals being offered on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond. According to a National Retail Federation survey, Americans say they plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. The survey says online sales will increase between 7 percent and 10 percent more than last year to as much as $117 billion.

With that in mind, how do consumers assure they are safe and keep their personal information safe from hackers when online shopping?

Dr Marwan

Dr. Marwan Omar, assistant professor of computer science and information systems at Saint Leo University, offers some helpful advice.

Q: What is the best way to protect my personal information?

Dr. Omar: Sensitive web surfing such as online shopping, online banking, and online bill pay should only be done on a computer that belongs to you and on a network that you trust. Never conduct this type of confidential web browsing in common areas such as local coffee shops, airports, or local restaurants because these are favorite targets for criminals since they reply on insecure public Wi-Fi networks.

Q: Are there sites that are more secure, and how do you recognize them?

Dr. Omar: Yes, any website that has the padlock or golden key shows that it’s more secure than those web site with no padlock or golden key. For example: https://www.wellsfargo.com is a secure web site because of the ‘S’ letter appended to HTTP which means that your personal data is stored and transmitted in a secure manner using encryption protocols.

Q: Do you always have to give information?

Dr. Omar: No. Be very wary of providing your personal information to anyone over the phone or online. Many hackers pretend that they are calling you in regard to your tax return or health care information, and they try to trick you into disclosing your confidential information. So be careful and never provide your personal information before you know who they are.

Q: Are there steps we should take to protect our computers and mobile devices?

Dr. Omar: Yes, turn off your computer and/or mobile devices while you are a sleep because this simple act can reduce the threats significantly since hackers are unable to reach out or touch your machine when it not connected to the internet. Also, encrypt your personal data on your computer as well as your smartphone. There are free software tools such as BitLocker that you can use to encrypt your entire hard drive thereby protecting it from being disclosed even if it falls in the wrong hands.

Q: What should you ALWAYS do?

Dr. Omar: Always check your bank statements and check your online banking activity every day and report any suspicious transactions to your bank immediately. Again, never ever conduct online backing from public places such as airport or local coffee shops.  Also, equally important is to remember not to share on social media before thinking twice about what you share. This is because cyber criminals regularly monitor social media for information that they can piece together and find victims. For example, if you post on social media that you will be on vacation for two weeks and away from your home then you are inviting burglars to break into your home.

Dr. Marwan Omar is an assistant professor of computer science and information systems at Saint Leo University and a member of the cybersecurity faculty for the Donald R. Tapia School of Business. He may be reached at Marwan.Omar@saintleo.edu.