How to protect yourself on Cyber Monday – or any Monday

Today is Cyber Monday, or as we like to call it at Trustwave: Monday.

Since our livelihood depends on digitally protecting our customers from the latest threats, every day is a cyber day.

But for online retailers, Cyber Monday - a term coined in 2005 to serve as the web equivalent of Black Friday - is the unofficial kickoff of the online holiday shopping season. And it comes packed with web-only bargains and specials.

Shoppers are flocking to online merchants today in search of a deal, with studies showing that sales during last year's Cyber Monday rose 30 percent compared to the day in 2011.

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But online retailers aren't the only ones looking to seize on the digital buying spree. Cyber criminals also are standing at the ready. So what can you do to ensure that you are shopping safely and protecting your and your employer's networks, systems and data?

Security Awareness Education is a critical component of an organization's security program. While there has been some debate about the effectiveness of awareness training, few can deny that employees are the first line of defense against the prospect of a breach. Not to mention, most industry and regulatory mandates require security education for employees.

While technology and policies that promote visibility and control are tantamount to a robust security posture, so is an employee culture rooted in safe computing practices.

So here are some guidelines we suggest following if you're going to be online shopping on Cyber Monday. Or any Monday. Or any day of the week for that matter.

Limit your link consumption: Links touting a deal that are provided via email, instant messenger or in social media streams sometimes lead to phishing and malware scams. If something entices you, it's usually a good idea to visit the retailer's website directly and find what you are looking for there.

"HTTPS" is your friend
: If you do happen to follow a link, then make sure you are at the correct site by checking the URL bar. Also, always ensure that the merchant's site is protected by "HTTPS," functionality that encrypts your web session and protects against eavesdropping on your personal information, such as your credit card number.

Don't give information to strangers:
During the checkout process, you should never be asked for information other than billing, shipping and credit card information. If asked for a government identification number, driver's license number, mother's maiden name, or PIN, it is either a scam or the transaction is being tampered with. Click out and do not return.

Trust your apps
: As more consumers turn to their smartphones and tablets to do their holiday shopping, fraud is migrating to these devices as well. If you're interested in installing an app, make sure you download it from the official Android and Apple stores. If not, it could siphon your personal information or install malware. And if that compromised device is connected to the corporate network, then that could be lead to very bad things.

It's not delivery...it's a scam:
 Your package is on the way, but you just received an email reporting a problem with the shipping. Chances are it's an attack masquerading as a delivery notification. Emails purporting to be alerts from FedEx and UPS are  common ploys, and they could contain particularly nasty strains of malware. If you're concerned your package might actually be in trouble, check directly with your retailer. Typically they send tracking numbers that link directly to most delivery services.

And as usual, keep your anti-virus and web security up to date, stay patched and avoid using unsecured, public Wi-Fi.

Safe shopping, everyone. Don't forget to send me something nice.

Dan Kaplan is the manager of online content at Trustwave.

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