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Give Yourself the Gift of Online Security

Dr. Andy Ozment
Assistant Secretary, Cybersecurity and Communications

According to the National Retail Federation, 141 million people spent $57.4 billion dollars during Thanksgiving weekend last year, and consumers spent nearly $600 billion during the 2013 holiday season. The biggest shopping season of the year comes with great deals and benefits to shoppers, but it also comes with certain risks. While 80 percent of annual online sales occur between Black Friday and the weekend before Christmas, those four weeks are also the biggest weeks for online spammers and scammers. With the holiday season quickly approaching, the best gift you can give yourself and your family is the gift of online security.

The following tips can help you protect your personal information when shopping online:

  • Use and maintain anti-virus software and a firewall. Protect yourself against viruses and Trojan horses that may steal or modify the data on your computer and leave you vulnerable.
  • Evaluate your software's settings. The default settings for most software enable all available functionality, possibly leaving room for an attacker to access your computer remotely. Check the settings for all software, and especially those programs that connect to the Internet (browsers, email clients, mobile applications, etc.). Apply the highest level of security available that still gives you the functionality you need.
  • Shop on reliable websites. Take a look at the website’s trademark or logo to make sure it’s valid. Also, pay attention to the website’s URL. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate website, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).
  • Protect your personal information. Take the time to check a website's privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there is no policy cited, this could be a red flag that your personal information may be sold without your permission.
  • Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Use caution when opening email attachments and don’t follow web links included in unsolicited email messages. Watch out for extremely low prices on hard-to-get holiday items. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Look for the lock. When shopping online, check the lower-right corner of your screen for the padlock symbol and make sure the website address begins with “https://” before entering your shipping, billing, or payment information. This symbol means that you’re using a website that is secure and which encrypts the data you send or receive.
  • Keep a record of your order. Retain all documentation of your online orders in the event that your purchase does not ship or there are unauthorized charges on your credit or debit card. Also, be sure to review your credit card statement each month for irregularities.
  • Get savvy about WiFi hotspots. Limit the type of business you conduct when using public Wi-Fi networks. Avoid shopping online when using public Wi-Fi as your information can easily be accessed by hackers on a public network.

If you think you have become a victim of identity theft, file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. You can also report online fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and file a report with the Department of Justice.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect.™ campaign encourages everyone to be vigilant about daily Internet use. The campaign’s objective is to increase the public’s understanding of cyber threats and empower them to be safer and more secure online. For more information, please visit www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.

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