Early shopping season reports showed online purchasing way up over in-store shopping this year. If you know what you want and what you want to pay for presents, online shopping is convenient and efficient. We’ve written a lot over the years about being safe online, but you’d be surprised who could be infectious.
One culprit, for example, could be an electrical contractor or video-surveillance-system contractor who does work at several locations for a national or regional retailer. That contractor may use some sort of billing app to invoice the retailer – let’s say it’s Target or Walmart, but it could be anybody; we’re talking about the size of the company. That invoice goes somewhere in the retailer’s massive data management program.
Now, let’s say that contractor hasn’t had the time to keep all of their security software update – or they’re using some free antivirus program that has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese – or they’re using easily cracked passwords.
Do you see where this is going? A hacker gets into the contractor’s computer system, simply because it’s open. Once inside the system, the hacker sees that the contractor has done business with the large retailer and is able to find all the information the contractor uses to get into the system. Once hackers are in, they have the opportunity to explore other parts of the system, and that’s where it’s possible for them to get all sorts of personal data about the retailer’s customers.
It could only be email addresses, but that may be enough to help them launch a scam – which we’ll get into later in this article. They could also get into credit card information, which leads to financial consequences.
As a business or consumer, what can you do to keep from being infectious? First of all, make sure all of your antivirus and malware software and firewalls are up to date and activated. We always advise going beyond free versions of all of this software. The paid versions are stronger and better supported.
Second, make sure you have strong passwords and change them. Yes, it’s an inconvenience, but that’s the tradeoff you need to make to protect your security. We also recommend using additional security measures such as two-factor authentication or requiring a text notification being sent to your cell phone when you change a password. The text notification will tip you off if someone is impersonating you online.
Third, be VERY, VERY CAREFUL at this time of year. Holiday season is scam season. When you buy online, it’s common to receive an email from a retailer or shipper with a link to track your packages. With thefts of packages commonplace, it’s useful to know when a package will arrive to make sure you or a neighbor can take it in. With everyone rushing to complete shopping and get work done, it’s all too easy to click on a link, and that’s the opening for scammers to get into your system.
Another scam is in the travel industry, such as a special offer purportedly from a hotel or airline. Again, you invited to click a link to take advantage of a “great opportunity.”
You should do your best to verify the authenticity of any link before clicking it. One effective way to check is to hover your mouse over the link. You should see the link’s origin. If it looks funny, avoid it. Even better, open your browser and go to the company’s website to see if you can find the information contained in the email. If it’s legit and available, you should be able to access it. Your other option is to pick a phone and call the company – using a number provided on its website, not from the email.
The sad truth is that no person, business or government is safe from hacking. The question is not if you will be hacked, it’s when you will be hacked. And the consequences can be even more widespread than they used to be. Some of the viruses now get into your computer’s firmware. That means that even if you wipe your hard drive clean and reinstall your operating system and all your other software, the virus is still there.
If you think you’ve been hacked or have a virus in your computer, call us or your IT specialist immediately. We know where to look and have the tools to discover your breach and mitigate the virus if it’s all possible. Call us – 973-433-6676 – immediately if you have a security concern or contact us by email if you have any questions about your online security.