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Hackers know the holidays are a prime opportunity to infiltrate systems, since everyone’s too busy decking their halls and scrambling to get last-minute gifts to pay much attention to potential cybersecurity threats. It’s only during the most wonderful time of the year that consumers are so universally stressed about shipping deadlines or getting rock-bottom pricing on products, which results in people handing over their personal information in high-risk situations they may normally be more cautious about. Hackers know you’ve let your guard down during the season of good will toward men, and they’re ready to take advantage of it.

If you want to halt hackers in their tracks this holiday season, implement these tools to keep your information secure.

  1. Shop securely. One of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of being hacked during the holidays is to pay attention to the websites from which you are shopping. All too often during the holidays, bargain-hunters are persuaded to click on and shop from shady links and online retailers. It’s very easy to tell if the website you’re visiting is secure; it will start with an https:// web address and will have a little padlock symbol next to the browser bar (that’s where you type in the web address). If you’re shopping in person, never allow the clerk to manually input your card information, and opt to use a credit card for purchases instead of debit cards whenever possible, since there’s more flexibility in disputing claims on credit.
  2. Never charge your phone on-the-go. Hackers can upload malware to your mobile device using USB charging ports, which means that if you’re charging your phone on-the-go using airport kiosks or ridesharing car ports, you could be plugging into a compromised terminal that will put all your data at risk. Think of all the personal, private data, photos, and information you keep stored on your most portable computer — your smart phone — and then think twice before plugging in for a charge at an unknown location just because you don’t want to brave the plane trip tech-free.
  3. Stay off public wifi. It’s a bad idea to surf the web using a public wifi hotspot, but people still do it all the time because it’s convenient. Unfortunately, it’s ridiculously easy for hackers to get into a public wifi connection and access your devices; they can set up false wifi connections to lure you into granting access to your information and they can even connect to your device without you browsing the web if you have “automatically connect” settings enabled on your smartphone. At the very least, never make a purchase or login to your bank account or mobile banking app using public wifi.
  4. Install updates immediately. You know all those obnoxious popups and notifications that keep pinging on your screen telling you that your phone, computer, or other device needs to update — again? It can be frustrating to feel as though you’re constantly waiting for the next patch to load, but these updates are critical to the health of your devices. Software updates expose vulnerabilities in the programming, which means hackers are literally handed a manual on what to attack if you haven’t installed the latest system update. Stop clicking “download later” and ignoring your device’s pleas for protection — install all updates immediately to ensure you’re protected.
  5. Be attentive, especially to your inbox. Email hacking is one of the easiest and most common forms of the crime, but it’s especially prevalent during the holiday season because it’s easier to trick people into opening malicious content. That colorful, animated Christmas card could be an infection that will wait until you enter your banking credentials online. That incredible promotion offered by a popular air carrier could contain a virus attachment. Emails soliciting charitable donations for needy families during the season of giving could drain your bank account after you send them a check. No one wants to be a Grinch or a Scrooge during the holidays, but you should definitely stay skeptical even during the most wonderful time of the year.
  6. Quit clicking on things. We’re all guilty of casually clicking through a series of web pages via a web of backlinks that connect content across the internet, and very few of us bother to investigate URLs before we click on them. In reality, all of us should study links before we click on them, checking for things like an https:// web address, the company name or details in the domain name, and domain ownership. You can also look for signs the site may not be legitimate, like misspellings, extra letters, or strings of random letters and numbers. When it comes to email or site content, look for clues like poor grammar and lack of personalization or details to signal you may be dealing with a malicious website.

These tools will not only help you to stop hackers during the holiday season, but can help you to protect your information year-round. Remember that the holiday season is prime time for cyber criminals, because huge numbers of people are shopping online and traveling to visit family and friends. The high-stress, fast-paced nature of the holiday season leaves too many people vulnerable to making rookie mistakes and falling for common scams that might have been obvious to them any other time of year. Worse still, it’s harder for financial institutions to track, monitor, and notify consumers of unusual spending, since people are spending more money than usual and traveling to visit relatives, further increasing the risk to consumers.

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