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Cybersecurity / 3 minute read

How to Stay Safe From Cyber-Scams This Christmas

As the festive season approaches, the majority of us will be completing that last-minute Christmas shopping through the websites of our favourite retailers, succumbing to the temptation of online deals and attractive discounts.

Gift with lock staying safe

However, the season is also a vulnerable time for online shoppers, with cyber-scammers choosing the festive period to launch their attacks on their unsuspecting victims. Research conducted by voucherbox.co.uk discovered that over the Christmas period last year, online criminals amassed an incredible £12.4m from their victims – this year, the figure is set to increase.

Online shoppers are urged to exercise caution to avoid the following cyber-scams that will be circulating over the Christmas period.

4 scams to watch out for this holiday season

Phishing Scams

While phishing scams are nothing new, fraudsters are well aware that, with the amount of promotional emails online shoppers will receive over Christmas, the festive period is a better time than any to attack. Phishing scammers will send victims a message, prompting them to click on a link which will then infect their hardware with a malware virus. Fraudsters are becoming increasingly creative in how they attack unsuspecting internet users, and will often send you an email disguised as an authentic message from a genuine online retailer.

Ransomware Viruses

Similar to phishing scams, ransomware will begin life as a virus that infects hardware through emails or downloads. Ransomware is a particularly aggressive virus, as the attacker will, quite literally, hold the files or data stored on a computer at ransom, with the criminals typically making a very high return on their investment.

A new strain of ransomware, Cryptowall 4.0, is swiftly becoming one of the most troublesome viruses of 2015; finding its way into a computer through an email attachment, Cryptowall 4.0 will encrypt all data on local drives, removable drives and mapped network drives before launching ransom notes detailing how to purchase the decrypter.

Unlike previous versions of this virus, Cryptowall 4.0 will also encrypt the file names of encrypted files – this is problematic for the victim, as the name of each file will be changed to a unique set of numbers or letters, making it increasingly difficult to identify which files will need to be recovered.

While there is no cure for ransomware, victims are urged not to submit to the threats of the attackers and pay the ransom, as there’s no guarantee that the fraudsters will in fact decrypt the files.

Unsecure Browsing

All websites that require card or payment information should display a padlock icon on the page’s browser to show that the webpage is secure. However, some websites, often very small online retailers, will not always be secure. It’s essential that payment information is only handed over via a secure connection and, if in doubt, checking who the site is registered to will help visitors decipher whether it is to be trusted. When making large online purchases, it’s recommended that shoppers use a method of payment that is protected by the providers should something go awry, such as a credit card or PayPal.

Free Vouchers

Christmas shoppers will always want to save money where they can, and nothing is more tempting than clicking on a flyer advertising free, or heavily discounted, purchases. However, shoppers are urged to click with caution. Instead of redeeming a voucher, many of these links will lead to bogus sites which will request enough personal information from victims for the criminals to raid their bank accounts. In some instances, the fraudster will present a simple set of questions that the victim needs to answer to claim their voucher – little do they know they are in fact being charged for each answer they provide.

Online shopping is growing in popularity, but users should tread with caution when making purchases this year; cyber criminals know that this season is the busiest time of the year for online retailing and are forever developing new, convincing scams that could leave many innocent shoppers out-of-pocket.

When using a work computer to make online purchases, it is more important than ever to be wary, as a simple click on an enticing link could quickly infect the entire company’s network and leave sensitive data and files vulnerable to scammers. A ‘think before you click’ attitude and a robust network security system are the best means of staying safe online this Christmas.

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