(BPT) - Would you leave the front door of your home unlocked at night? Probably not.
For the same reasons you secure the things most valuable inside your home, it has never been more important to lock down your online accounts. Whether it's your bank account, 401(k), social media, email, or sensitive files stored in the cloud, it's your responsibility to install the digital locks that will stop cybercriminals from stealing and profiting off your data.
The keys to securing your accounts and data are stronger passwords and authentication. Here are some essential cyber-savvy tips to get you through this holiday shopping season safely:
- You lose when you reuse: Never use the same password across multiple accounts. If cybercriminals were to obtain your username and password, then they would likely try that same set of credentials on multiple sites. Avoid this type of cyberattack by using different passwords on all your accounts. Avoid the temptation to use one password for all your online shopping sites.
- Password managers are your friend: Consider using a password manager. Most popular mobile devices and browsers have native password managers built into them, so using one has never been easier. Password managers automatically create unique and complex passwords and then securely store them, so you don't have to memorize them.
- Passphrases keep things simple: Passphrases are the strongest forms of passwords. While many online retailers require passwords to include uppercase/lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, it's the overall length of the password that makes it secure. An easy way to make your passwords longer is to use a string of words. Examples: 'iheartholidayshopping' or 'familytimeismyfavorite.'
- Turn on multi-factor authentication (MFA): Whenever an online service or app offers MFA, you should enable it to add an extra layer of protection against cybercriminals. MFA most often works by texting or emailing you a one-time passcode to sign into your account.
- Use public devices with caution: If you need to use a public computer (e.g., at a customer service desk or the library), make sure you sign out of email, a retailer website or any other account you may have accessed.
- Passwords are like toothbrushes: Don't share your passwords with anyone, including a family member, your shopping buddy or even your boss. Also, never write down your passwords on a shopping flyer/list or let someone snoop over your shoulder when typing in a password. Always be on alert when standing in those long checkout lines and searching your phone for the next best deal.
According to the most recent Xfinity Cyber Health Report, 78% of respondents admitted to risky behaviors that open themselves up to attack, including reusing passwords across two or more platforms (56%), neglecting to install recommended software updates on smart devices (28%) or even sharing passwords with someone else (24%).
Shoppers are particularly vulnerable during the holiday season. Between Black Friday, Cyber Monday and general holiday shopping, you may be at risk of being lured by bargains and clicking on a fake ad, website or auction listing, where personal or financial information can be captured and stolen.
Guard against social engineering scams - phishing (email), smishing (SMS text) or vishing (voice calls) - this holiday season by following these cyber-savvy best practices:
- Never share sensitive information over the phone: No matter how 'official' the caller sounds, do not share your account information, credit card number, PIN or login credentials. Even if it's a familiar number, use caution. Phone numbers can be spoofed to look like a call is coming from a legitimate source.
- Always double-check web addresses: A website's URL can tell you a lot about its security. When visiting a website, look for 'https://' at the beginning of the web address, indicating that the data going to and coming from the website's server is encrypted.
- Scrutinize texts as you would emails: Never reply to an SMS/text message that you suspect might be fraudulent, and do not click on any suspicious links within a text message.
Preserve the magic of the season by keeping these cyber-savvy tips in mind. It's a good idea to check in with your internet service provider to see what security solutions they offer for their home gateways. For example, Comcast's xFi Advanced Security service protects millions of home users and can add safe browsing and data protection while on the go through xFi Complete. With the right tools and security habits, you can help protect yourself and shop safely this holiday season.