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It’s the most wonderful time of the year- people are out and about, visiting loved ones for the holidays and shopping for presents to place under their Christmas trees. During the pandemic, many consumers made a dramatic shift towards e-commerce for their holiday shopping. This dramatic shift to e-commerce happened quickly and offered people convenient ways to shop from the comfort of their homes.

According to Suchi Sastri’s reports on Google and Boston Consulting Group’s survey results, “as in-store shopping resurges, digital’s role in shopping has been cemented, as more than 70% of surveyed participants reported that their shopping journey involved online touchpoints”. This means that whether you are shopping online or in-store this holiday season, digital touchpoints will be part of the average consumer’s shopping journey.

Another dramatic shift that took place during the pandemic was the increase of cybercrime, with the most common forms of attacks being phishing, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion. With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s likely that you’ll be receiving hundreds of emails from the brands you love with special offers and deals- but beware! Cyber attacks like phishing emails can be disguised as coming from someone you know, a brand you love, or a co-worker you trust.

To help keep you safe from common cybercrime attempts this holiday season, we’re sharing our top five tips so you can have a cyber-safe holiday!

Tip #1: Keep Your Private Information Private

Cybercriminals who are planning a cyber-attack may try to collect personal information about you, the company you work for, and your network to tailor an attack to trick you into believing the contact is legitimate. When these tailored attacks happen, it can be difficult to recognize the suspicious links, files, and instructions when you receive them. Not being able to tell the difference between a hacker and someone you trust makes it easier for hackers to gain access to your systems and information.

Keep your private information private to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Avoid disclosing personal information to untrusted sources through calls, texts, or emails. You might be asking yourself, “how can I tell if an email is from someone I know or a hacker”? Check out our next tip- 7 red flags to look out for with phishing scams.

Tip #2: Seven Red Flags of Phishing Scams

Phishing is a common method that hackers will use to steal valuable information from individuals and organizations. Phishing scams are often disguised as messages from people and organizations that you trust, making them easier to fall victim to.

The most important way to avoid a phishing scam is to learn how to recognize one. The following are seven red flags to look out for:

  1. Urgent or threatening language: Look out for threats of closing your account or taking legal action, and pressure to respond or act on something quickly.
  2. Requests for sensitive information: Be on alert for links directing you to login pages, requests to update your credentials, and demands for your or your company’s financial information.
  3. Anything too good to be true: Avoid actions on messages that claim winnings from contests you’ve never entered, prizes you must pay for to receive, and inheritance from long-lost relatives.
  4. Unexpected emails: Disregard emails such as receipts for items you’ve never purchased and updates on deliveries for things you didn’t order.
  5. Information mismatches: Look out for incorrect (but maybe similar) sender email addresses, links that don’t go to official websites, errors in spelling or grammar that a legitimate organization wouldn’t miss.
  6. Suspicious attachments: Avoid attachments that you didn’t ask for that have weird file names or uncommon file types.
  7. Unprofessional design: Be on alert for incorrect or blurry company logos, image-only emails, and company emails with little, poor, or no formatting.

If you encounter any of these red flags in an email or message, do not interact with it. Rather, delete the email or message. If you are unsure, ask the sender about the message through a different medium. For example, if you receive an email that looks suspicious, call the right contact to confirm its legitimacy.

Tip #3: Keep Your Systems Secure with Anti-Virus Software

Malware is one of the most common ways people experience a cyberattack. Did you know that 2 in 5 Canadians have had malware on their computer? Malware is software that is specifically designed to interfere with, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. If your device is infected, it can cause freezing and crashing, poor performance, unwanted pop-ups, and toolbars, and even send out unwanted emails.

Malware presents itself in many forms, including viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware and adware, and ransomware. These common forms of malware are sometimes difficult to recognize. The following best practices can help you protect your computer system against malware:

  • Install and use anti-virus software
  • Avoid suspicious links and email attachments
  • Download only from trusted sources
  • Use a VPN on unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi

Tip #4: Create and Use Strong Passwords

Do you tend to use the same password for every member site you visit? If so, you’re not alone! In fact, at least 65% of people reuse the same passwords across multiple sites? Although this makes remembering your credentials easier to do, this also makes your accounts vulnerable to cyberattacks.

By creating complex passphrases and unique passwords for each site you use, you instantly tighten up your security, making your accounts less attractive to hackers. Password managers such as Google Password Manager and LastPass can easily help you create complex passphrases and store them so that you never forget a password again.

Some best practices for creating complex passphrases include:

  • Avoiding family, pet, company, and familiar names that can be easily guessed by others
  • Using unique combinations of letters, numbers, symbols, and cases for each site you use
  • Creating passwords with at least 4 words and 15 characters long

Tip #5: Keep Your Systems, Programs, And Applications Updated

Updating your programs and operating systems regularly ensures that you are benefiting from the latest security patches and bug fixes, making it harder for cybercriminals to exploit your data with malware. Most programs and operating systems do a great job at reminding their users when an update is available. Next time you see that pop-up telling you that you have a software update available- don’t ignore it.

Stay Cyber Safe This Holiday Season

By following cyber safe best practices such as keeping your private information private, learning how to prevent phishing scams, using anti-virus protection, using strong passwords, and keeping your systems updated, you can have a cyber-safe holiday!

There is no show of cybercrime slowing down, so it’s always a good idea to stay up to date on the best practices and evolving tactics to avoid cybercrime. Want to keep your IT infrastructure cyber secure? Talk to our IT experts today for the best cybersecurity protection.

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