Just like that, we’ve officially entered the holiday season: sweaters have made their annual debut, sweet treats seem to appear around every corner, and your morning hot coffee is even more of a necessity. Online activity soars as well, as families scour the internet for the greatest holiday deals, decide where to send their annual donations, and search up inspiration for this year’s holiday party. Unfortunately, this time of year isn’t all sprinkles and whipped cream; it’s also the perfect opportunity for cybercriminals to use your time online against you.
As your trusted broadband provider, we at FASTnet want to ensure your online activity is secure this festive season. That’s why we’ve gathered twelve tips (plus a bonus if you read to the end) to fortify your connection, devices, and data—so you can get into the holiday spirit with peace of mind. Read on to learn how to shop, donate, and browse without compromising your cyber security.
Tips for Shopping Online:
1. Look for the Lock: Legitimate websites will use SSL protection to encrypt payment details or other information sent to or from the site. To identify these secured sites, check the address bar on your browser. The URL should start with “https” instead of “http.” This added “s” symbolizes SSL protection. You might also see a lock icon near the address bar, which means the same thing.
2. Coupon with Care: As you hunt for the best deals this holiday season, beware of too-good-to-be-true offers, especially if you don’t recognize the retailer. Before clicking or handing over personal information, search for company reviews to see other people’s experiences. Once you’ve deemed the company legitimate, purchase through secure links only (see tip above).
3. Watch Your Accounts: Tracking your purchases can be cumbersome, we know, but it’s the most critical time to do so. Keep a close eye on your accounts this holiday season to ensure all charges are authorized (and for the correct amount). Here’s a tip within a tip: sign up to receive SMS or email alerts when a purchase is made through your bank or credit card accounts. Some banks also offer customizable alerts to notify you of charges over X dollar amount, double charges, and more.
4. Beware Fake Delivery Updates: We all have packages rolling in this time of year, and scammers know it. Avoid clicking suspicious links or attachments in delivery notifications, particularly if they warn of an “incomplete delivery address” and request sensitive information to hand over your package. Even clicking through the link can open your device to security threats, so instead, check your delivery status through the official carrier’s website. Even if it takes a few more steps, you’ll be glad you did it.
Tips for Donating Online:
5. Research First: Cybercriminals will absolutely take advantage of charitable spirits during the holiday season. Don’t feel pressured to give on the spot; instead, visit a charity assessment website, like Charity Navigator, to vet the organization that requested your donation. You can learn more about the organization’s legitimacy, values, tax status, etc.
6. Initiate on Your Terms: Any phone calls or emails requesting donations should be scrutinized and largely, ignored. If you wish to donate to the organization reaching out, visit their website through your browser (not from the link in a suspicious email) or call the organization to donate directly. As a dead giveaway, callers posing as reputable organizations will often pressure you to
give right now and make excuses as to why you shouldn’t hang up and call the company’s official number. Know that no donation is so urgent that you must give in the next few minutes.
7. Pay Securely: Generally, never wire money or send cash as a donation. Your most secure option is to pay via credit card on a site with SSL protection (see tip 1), or by a check addressed to the charitable organization. Credit cards offer an extra layer of protection against cybercriminals, as fraudulent charges can be disputed before money ever leaves your account. On the other hand, debit card purchases are deducted from your account immediately. Any unauthorized charges would leave you without those funds as the investigation unfolds.
8. Doublecheck the Website: Pay special attention to the URLs of donation sites. Cybercriminals often create websites that, at first glance, seem legitimate. Upon close inspection, though, these URLs differ slightly from the actual site, perhaps misspelling the company name or adding extra characters.
Tips for Browsing Online:
9. Keep Devices Updated: Frequent software updates do more than enhance your user experience; they also fix security flaws and bugs that could otherwise make your device more susceptible to cybercriminals. When you see a device update is available, install it immediately. Better yet, toggle on the Automatic Updates option in your device’s settings so you never miss an update.
10. Use Secure Wi-Fi Networks: Free public Wi-Fi is always a win, right? Not quite. These networks are easy for hackers to access, and while on them, you should refrain from logging into accounts or entering payment details into any website. If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your online activity.
11. Strengthen Your Passwords: What do you see when you picture a hacker “guessing” your passcode? Despite what you might think, it’s not a guy in a dark hoodie trying to remember the name of your first family pet—it’s a computer spitting out thousands of potential passcodes in fractions of a second. According to a 2021 source (that’s two years of technological advancements ago), hackers can crack a seven-character password in 0.29 milliseconds.
How can you combat this? Shoot for at least 14-16 characters, with a unique mix of capital and non-capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, avoid using complete words in your passwords, such as your last name or hometown. Something like “e^R3-@E0o-sKq!” will be much more secure than “SmithsHouse345,” even if these passcodes are the same character length.
Plenty of password generators out there can help you develop these unique combinations. And don’t worry about memorizing each of these passcodes either; you can use a password manager to track it all.
12. Level-Up Your Logins: Besides password length and complexity, you can often use “multi-factor authentication” to lock down your accounts further. Webpages and apps might have you enter a unique, one-time passcode sent to your phone or email before granting access to your account to make sure it’s really you. Where possible, enable these multi-factor (or two-factor) authentications to add an extra layer of security.
*Bonus Tip*: Securing Your Home Wi-Fi
Now that you’re armed with tips to keep your data safe during the holidays, there’s just one thing left to secure: your home Wi-Fi network. The fact is, your bank details, credit card information, and other important data can be accessed through your home network, and cybercriminals know it. Without protection, unsecured Wi-Fi makes us vulnerable where we should feel most safe, on the one network that should be most secure. At FASTnet, we aim to offer something more. FASTnet offers Smart Home Wi-Fi, an AI-powered addition to your network that significantly elevates your home Wi-Fi experience. On top of its many other benefits, Smart Home Wi-Fi has a “Guard” feature to defend your network against potential threats. This includes:
· Online protection
· Advanced IoT protection
· Latest encryption standards
If you’d like to explore more benefits of Smart Home Wi-Fi or get started today, visit 4cfastnet.com/smart-home-Wi-Fi or contact your FASTnet team at (800) 431-1544.
Wrapping It Up (with a bow) 🎁
As the holiday season warms our hearts and homes, cybersecurity is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. You’ve taken the first step to safeguard your online activities by reading this article, and now the rest is up to you. Whether shopping, donating, or browsing, follow these tips to protect your personal information against online threats.
As always, thank you for trusting the FASTnet team with your broadband needs. We value your service and hope this guide helps you and your family stay safe this holiday season.