Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost here and so are awesome deals in almost all of your favorite online stores. There are lots of obvious advantages to shopping online in your favorite websites especially during the holiday season, like skipping the queues and browsing through an unlimited catalog of products.
However, there are also a few disadvantages and dangers to it. The major one of them being hackers and cybercriminals who are waiting to target the millions of people trying to buy their favorite products online and steal their data or scam them.
The cybercriminals take advantage of a huge volume of target audience trying to spend their money during this holiday weekend and entering their credit card details in a hurry so as to buy something before the deal ends, sometimes without even verifying the integrity of the website.
So, in this article, we will first discuss the ways which cyber criminals generally use to trick the users into stealing their data like their credit card information or contact details or scam them by making them pay money to a product that doesn’t exist. We will then discuss 9 tips that would help you to stay safe online during this Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
Common ways used by cybercriminals for scamming and stealing user data
Phishing attacks are probably the most common way used by cybercriminals and hackers to steal user data. They mainly involve in sending an email to the target user and use some sort of social engineering to lure the user into providing details about him which might later be used against him.
For instance, the attackers might send an email that says that your password for a particular account has been compromised and click on the link in the email to reset it. But once you click the link and enter your old password for resetting it, the attackers will now have access to your password.
Spoofing of popular eCommerce websites
One more way used by cybercriminals to scam people is by creating a fake version of popular eCommerce sites like Amazon and eBay and then spreading the links to these fake sites to the target users.
These sites might look very similar both in looks and functionality to the legitimate versions but will have slight differences in the name of the URL or the product catalog. Most of these sites will also lack an SSL certificate which is necessary to make secure online transactions.
Posting malicious links in social media
Hackers also use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread malicious links to popular eCommerce sites. While these links might actually redirect you to the official websites sometimes, they are usually injected by some form of Malware.
This means that once you click on these links and purchase something from the site using your credit card information, the details would be sent to the attacker.
Affecting your system with Malware
While this method is not commonly used for scamming the users, it is a very popular way incorporated by the cybercriminals to steal confidential user data like credit card information, security questions, passwords and so.
They usually involve in installing a program called Keylogger into the target system of the user and this program will then record each and every keystroke of your computer and will forward this data to the attacker. He will now have access to all your confidential information, including your passwords and can practically do anything with this information.
Now that we have seen some of the most common ways used the hackers and cybercriminals especially during the holiday season, we will now discuss the ways you can protect yourself from getting scammed or losing your personal data. So, here are 9 tips to stay safe online during Black Friday & Cyber Monday.
9 tips to stay safe online during Black Friday & Cyber Monday
Update all the software
The first and the most important tip to stay safe online during your shopping spree this Black Friday is to make sure all the software on your mobile, PC and any other device you might use for online shopping is updated to their latest version.
This includes your operating system, any password managers you might use and especially your browser apps. This is because older versions of software might be vulnerable to a number of attacks and you might get into the danger of these vulnerabilities being exploited by the attackers.
If you are using any kind of extensions on your browser, it is recommended that you update those to the latest version as well. Hackers and cybercriminals would be actively looking for entry points and vulnerabilities in the target devices to compromise your device and steal your personal information.
So, it is absolutely essential that you stay as safe as possible and do not have any kind of vulnerable software installed on any of your devices.
Use two-factor authentication wherever possible
Make sure you set up the two-factor authentication feature on all your accounts and sites, at least on the ones that have that option.
In a worst-case scenario when your data has already been compromised and an attacker is trying to access your accounts by logging in using the information he stole from you, a two-factor authentication setup in place will certainly be useful in warning you that someone besides you is trying to access your account.
In that case, you can know that your passwords have been compromised and can immediately change your password and take other necessary measures that you stay safe.
While there are advanced attack mechanisms where hackers could even get access to your two-factor authentication code, that is a rare possibility and it wouldn’t hurt to enable an extra layer of security for all your accounts.
Use Antivirus software and a browser plugin
Having a good Antivirus software setup on your computer and all the other devices that you might use to do online shopping is always a good way to ensure that your computer is safe from virus or Malware and the websites you are visiting is not malicious or have not been tampered by any attackers.
Many popular antivirus software also comes with a corresponding browser plugin that scans the websites you are visiting and lets you know if they have been compromised or are not secure so that you can avoid shopping on those websites.
Use ad blockers on your browser
While ad blockers generally affect the revenue of many genuine websites as most of them depend on advertisements for a major part of their income, they also help you in blocking malicious advertisements and advertisements on certain sites which might redirect you to a harmful site or try to install Malware to your system or compromise your data.
So, even if you don’t generally use an ad blocker on your browser, it is recommended that you use a good ad-blocking plugin on your browser both on your PC and mobile to stay safe during this holiday weekend on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Most Android smartphones come with Chrome browser installed as default, which unfortunately doesn’t support ad blocking extension on the mobile version. So, if you want to use your mobile browser for shopping instead of apps, you can try using Opera or Mozilla Firefox temporarily or any other browser app that supports ad-blocking extension.
Beware while downloading shopping apps and using them for shopping instead of your browser as attackers might upload fake versions of these apps to the app store as well to try and scam the users.
Check the URL of the website and presence of SSL certificate
Whenever you are visiting a website by clicking on a link shared by someone or some link you found on social media or sent through mail, there is a high chance that the link might not be a legitimate website or might redirect you to a malicious site set up by attackers in an attempt to scam you or steal of your data.
In such cases, you can verify whether the website is actually safe and secure or is harmful by clicking on the ‘lock’ icon on the corner of your browser’s address bar.
This can be done on both PC and mobile phones and once you click on the ‘lock’ icon you will be displayed information about whether the site you are currently on is secure or not by the presence of an SSL certificate. If you find out that a site is not secure, then it is highly recommended that you do not use this site to do your online shopping.
It is also recommended to check the URL of the website before you proceed with the payment because sometimes attackers might even install an SSL certificate to their spoof websites, but they cannot get the same domain name as of the legitimate versions of the websites they are trying to spoof.
Avoid clicking on unknown or shortened URLs and links
Some of the attackers use URL shorteners to mask their malicious links and share them to social media or spread them through emails, hoping someone would click on them and visit their website. While these links might look genuine, they are most probably not and are just an attempt of the attackers to scam you and steal your information.
So, if you see any links for some awesome deals that are too good to be true, more often than not they are probably that. So, it is best practice to directly visit the website you want to do your online shopping on manually and then search for the deals yourself instead of clicking on random links you find online.
Enable alerts on your credit cards and banking apps
While it is generally a good practice to enable spending and transaction alerts on all your banking apps and credit cards, it is especially necessary to do that during this holiday season. Because chances are your card or bank account details are already compromised and you are not even aware of it and some cybercriminal or hacker is using your details to make online purchases.
So, if you enable these alerts you can immediately know if someone is using your cards to make payments without your knowledge and you can temporarily block or disable your card to avoid losing more money.
It is also recommended that you transfer any additional funds you might have on your primary bank to a secondary account during this holiday season to avoid any unnecessary incidents like this from happening on Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping.
Avoid unknown or insecure internet connection
You might be tempted to use any internet connection you might get your hands on this holiday season to grab that deal before it ends, but it is generally not advisable to do that.
This is because if you are using any unknown or insecure internet connection to connect your device to the internet and do your Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping, you might not realize that the network you are using might be compromised or be monitored by an attacker.
Using advanced network monitoring tools combined with some other attack mechanism, a cybercriminal or a hacker might be able to gain access to your passwords, credit card information or even compromise your system and install Malware in it.
So, it is always recommended to use your personal internet or home internet connection when you are doing sensitive tasks like shopping online using your card details.
Update all your passwords
Password breaches and account compromises are happening almost every day these days and chances are that your account is already compromised by some hacker and your password is out there.
If you are someone who uses the same password for all or most of your accounts, then it is highly recommended that you change your password immediately. If your password is compromised, then an attacker could easily gain access to all your accounts, especially if you use the same password everywhere.
So, update your password across all your accounts and if you think it would be a difficult and time-consuming task to come with multiple new and complicated passwords, you can use some of the popular password manager software out there to help you.
Password managers not only help you to generate complicated passwords for all your accounts but also store them safely and sync them across your devices, so you don’t need to remember lots of long and complicated passwords.
Have a safe Black Friday and Cyber Monday
I hope that these tips would help you to stay safe online this Black Friday and Cyber Monday and to do your online shopping and get your favorite products without getting scammed by some hacker or cybercriminal or losing your data or money.
If you know any other tips for safe online shopping, let us know in the comments section below.