Safe Computing During The Holiday Season
by Erin Early - Lavasoft - Tuesday, 25 November 2008.
The holiday season is a time of increased online activity. During the hustle and bustle that surrounds this time of year, what’s more convenient than saving a little time (and money) by shopping and buying online? You can bypass crowded stores and still find the perfect gifts, access your bank account and monitor credit card statements within minutes, and book travel arrangements to meet up with friends and family – all from the comfort of home.

But when consumers go online this time of year, they face the risk of running up against a range of cyber threats – threats that increase in number exponentially on a daily basis. In this year’s run-up to the holiday season, Lavasoft researchers have seen a 462 percent increase in the amount of malware detected and added to Ad-Aware’s threat database, compared to the same period last year.

Before the rush of the holidays sets in, consumers need to take the necessary steps to avoid these online hazards and be sure to shop, bank, and buy securely online. The security experts at Lavasoft have made a list – of basic "do's and don'ts" for safe computing – and you should be checking it twice to ensure peace of mind as you shop online this holiday season.

DO

1. Do maintain your security software essentials to keep malware off of your PC. Updated anti-spyware and anti-virus protection, as well as a firewall, are the minimum you need.

2. Do uninstall unnecessary applications and services. Keeping the amount of applications and services on your system at a minimum will make you less vulnerable to an attack.

3. Do purchase only from companies you know and trust and well-established retailers. While we all want to find the best deals available online, be aware that cyber criminals will be lurking about, trying to deceive you into making a purchase. If it looks too good to be true, it just might be...

4. Do create strong passwords to keep your computer, information, and online accounts safe. Choose passwords made up of letters, numbers, and special characters.

5. Do stay alert to the latest scams. Being aware of common social engineering campaigns and other types of online scams is an effective method to counter fraud.

DON'T

6. Don't go online unless your PC is fully patched. Update your operating system regularly with the latest security patches from Microsoft by turning on the Windows auto-update feature. The Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer tool can also be used to pinpoint security related misconfigurations and security updates that are missing.

7. Don't click on links or open attachments in e-mail messages from unknown senders. It may only take a few misguided clicks to infect your PC.

8. Don't make hasty online purchases. Check out the seller, what you are buying, and the payment details before you pay. If you’re hesitant to enter your credit card details online, consider using a separate credit card with a low credit limit for online transactions. Some credit card companies also offer an “e-card” solution that gives you the ability to create a temporary card number to be used just once or with a spending limit.

9. Don't disclose personal or sensitive information online without first exercising caution. Verify why the information is needed and that it is absolutely necessary to give out. Keep in mind that security conscious banks and credit card companies will not urge users to send personal details by e-mail or ask users to login to their account via a link provided in an e-mail message – be alert to these kinds of fraudulent messages.

10. Don't shop on sites that are not secure. If the URL begins with “https://” it indicates a secure connection where the information is being encrypted. You can also check your browser window for a padlock icon, another indication that a website is secure.

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