Your Guide to a Cyber-Secure Holiday Season

Dec 18, 2020

Be cyber-aware and stay cyber-secure this holiday season!

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us would normally be gearing up for airline travel, big family gatherings, New Year’s parties, and much more. However, with the threat of COVID-19, we’ve had to change the ways in which we communicate and work with one another. It’s very likely that we’ll be relying on the virtual world for shopping, entertainment, and connecting with our loved ones this winter break— as such, it’s important to take precautions to keep our online information safe and secure.

While the holiday season can be a hectic time of year, it’s also a busy time for cybercriminals who are trying to take advantage of unassuming consumers. Keep reading for a list of tips to help you and your family stay safe online this holiday season.

1. Update your passwords

You’re probably tired of hearing this one but we’re repeating it for good reason. This one “rule” of cybersecurity has been hammered into us from day one…and yet, weak passwords are one of the most common cybersecurity vulnerabilities year after year. In fact, 30% of ransomware infections in 2019 were a result of weak passwords. The importance of having a strong password cannot be stressed enough. It’s the first line of defense if your device gets lost or stolen, so having a complex password will help keep hackers at bay. For more information about password security, check out our previous blog.

2. Use secure Wi-Fi and disable auto-connect

Having free public Wi-Fi at your favourite coffee shop may be convenient, but that convenience comes with a price. The truth is that public Wi-Fi is not cyber-secure, and should never be used when making online purchases. Instead, it’s much safer to use a virtual private network (VPN) or your own phone as a hotspot. Turn off any auto-connect features on your devices to avoid inadvertently joining public Wi-Fi and exposing yourself to hackers.

3. Think before you click

With the increasing number of promotional emails and flash sales during this busy time, cybercriminals may attempt to recreate these deals. Scammers can offer “free” gift cards and other fake deals in hopes of tricking you into downloading malware or exposing sensitive information. Always pay attention to the sender’s address, visit the retailer’s official website by directly typing it into your browser, and stay wary of deals that seem “too good to be true.”

4. Monitor your accounts

It’s always a good idea to check your financial accounts for any suspicious activity, but this practice is especially important during this time of year. With cybercriminals taking advantage of the holiday season, you can be at a greater risk of a targeted attack. Try using text or email alerting services from banks and credit card companies to be notified immediately of a suspicious purchase.


5. Shop from secure websites

Your Wi-Fi connection isn’t the only thing that should be secure when you’re online shopping. Check whether the site you’re shopping on uses SSL protection, a standard technology for keeping an internet connection secure and safeguarding any sensitive data that is being sent between two systems. HTTPS appears in the URL of a site that has been secured by an SSL certificate, and can easily be verified by looking at your browser’s address bar.

6. Ensure your operating and security systems are up-to-date

One of the easiest ways to protect your data is by updating your laptop, tablets, and mobile devices. You can defend yourself against certain malware by running the most current versions of web browsers, apps, and other software.

7. Report any lost or stolen devices

This rule applies especially to company devices. If your phone or laptop is missing, notify your company’s security officer or IT department immediately. Many smartphones have a “kill switch” which allows you to remotely lock and wipe your phone to prevent thieves from resetting it. But in order for these services to work, you must have them set up. It’s a good idea to ask your company’s IT department if your devices have this capability.

8. Be cautious with your charitable donations

Online criminals know that the holiday season can spark the desire to give back to the community. It’s important to be on the lookout for any suspicious emails or phone calls that ask for donations, especially from organizations that are unfamiliar. Check for legitimacy by doing research, and never feel pressured to give money on the spot. Remember to always visit the website directly (and check to see if they have HTTPS) if you want to donate to a charitable cause.

Since we’re all home for the holidays this year, we can expect an increase in online activity— and cybersecurity incidents. According to Statistics Canada, e-commerce sales hit a record $3.9 billion in May, with many businesses turning to e-commerce platforms to survive during the pandemic. Cybercriminals are aware of the surging popularity of e-commerce, which means that phishing, malware, and other cyberattacks are also on the rise.

Don’t let a cyber incident ruin your holiday! Educate yourself on the potential threats and teach those around you. We hope that you can apply some of these tips to your online habits and enjoy a cyber-secure holiday season.

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