I love this time of the year, especially now that I have children. Finding just the right gifts for each person on my list, going out to the stores, looking for great deals on items, bringing them home in my trunk to hide, wrapping and putting them all under the tree is THE BEST!!! Who am I kidding, I am a guy and I hate shopping. But I do love to give and Christmas is a great time to give gifts of gratitude and love to people. I see gift cards as either a gift of request or last resort so I do A LOT if not ALL of my purchasing of gifts online. I know many others that do as well. So this is also the time of year that many of us get our accounts hacked and our computers infected because we are too quick to click on a link or open an email about what we all think is that special present we ordered. Or worse, we are using the greatest gift giving tool in the world, Google and we are trusting that the link it provided to that great deal on that great gift is real and safe. So what steps should we be taking to protect ourselves both in this season of giving and all year long? Here are four common sense steps we can all take to have a happier and safer life when it comes to using our computers.
First the most obvious and easiest, have a good antivirus/antimalware program installed on your PC. Yes even you Mac users should consider it because now that there are so many more being used people have a greater incentive to write bad things for them. I am not going to get into a product outline but if you need recommendations please email me and I will be glad to get all geeky with you on that front. Regarding mobile devices I would say the jury is out on whether there are enough threats to warrant protecting them. If you haven’t jail broken your device (phone or tablet) you are most likely safe because the makers still have those devices pretty much on lockdown regarding what and how things get installed on them. But neither having a protection suite, nor using your mobile device absolves you of good judgment.
Which brings me to the second thing you should be doing; use your head at all times. So many times people have a false sense of safety behind their keyboards and protection software. But the way all of these programs work is by gathering information about issues and infections by new exploits and writing updates to protect against them. This is always a one step ahead and two steps back kind of race. So this means when you get an email about “tracking of your shipment” and you didn’t order anything don’t open it! If you can look at the senders address and if it doesn’t look to be from who you ordered it from or from a shipper then go manually back to the site you ordered from and check the status from there. Every year this is one of the most common ways we see people get infected and their accounts hacked. For me I just write down the order number when I place the order and when I want updates I go back to the site every time. I never use email notifications directly because there is such a big chance of them not being legit and because I do so much of my buying online I am almost at all times waiting on something to be delivered to me for work or personally.
Third I would suggest you not use links from Google or any other search engine or an email to sites that you already know how to find. By those I mean Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, EBay, etc. The reason is that those are the sites that are most likely going to have someone putting up fake versions. They use misspellings and added words in the URL to make you think it is the right site in hopes of you either downloading something or providing information you wouldn’t want them to have. This advice also goes for bank, credit card, and email account websites. If you know the URL then type it yourself to avoid getting caught in one of these sites. I probably get one to two messages a week from someone trying to tell me that my account at one of these services has been compromised and I need to click this link to “take back control” of the account or some other wording. I do think that Google and the search engines do a great job of avoiding putting these kinds of sites up in their search results but let’s be honest, they are fighting an uphill battle and why be that one person that gets a bad link when you could just type it in yourself. Now if you are using a link to a site that you didn’t know there are a few things you can check for to ensure it is legit. First, I would make sure the URL spelling matches the intended company name. If not, question it. Next, once no the site if you don’t see what should be a full site and it is only a few pages it could be a spoof and you should probably consider researching for the site via another engine to see if another link works better. If you are going to process a transaction on a site be sure you see the little “padlock” in the URL bar at the top of your browser to know the transaction is encrypted. If not what you are typing is in clear text and could be seen/stolen by others.
Fourth, and lastly the thing I would highly advice against is letting any site store your credit card information or really any information about you that isn’t public record. This is because you are now trusting that site to do everything they need to to ensure the protection of your information which you can protect better by not putting it out there. I know it makes things easier to order in the future but if they get hacked then you have to deal with the whole process of getting a new card or worse unwinding new cards opened by a hacker in your name.
I hope even though most of this you have heard a thousand times it helps you to have a happier Christmas shopping season and stay safer the rest of the year. Do you have any steps you take to protect yourself that I didn’t mention that maybe I should take next year? Please reach out and let me know. As we wind down an amazing 2014 and enter what I hope is an even better 2015 I wish you and yours much happiness and joy, your business much success and hope we can be of service t you in your efforts for many years to come.