Your cybersecurity checklist: Simple reminders for the holiday season

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The holidays are upon us and, despite the pandemic, many of us are still determined to celebrate. Online transactions — which reached record levels during the lockdowns — are expected to increase even more this month. 

Unfortunately, this also means that scammers are once again ready to exploit the expected online spending surge. So it’s time that you become more vigilant about cybersecurity. As the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) points out, “Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility between the bank and its clients and everyone needs to be aware of the warning signs of phishing, vishing, and other kinds of online fraud.”

To ensure that you and your loved ones get to enjoy your hard-earned money for the holidays, it pays if you take the following tips to heart.

1. Secure your passwords. These important keys are your first line of defense against scammers. The objective is to never let any scammer break through this barrier. Time and again, people are reminded to choose hard-to-guess passwords. We all know by now that we should never use our names, birthdays, or any information that is publicly available as our passwords. 

IT experts lament that despite “heightened global awareness of hacking and data breaches,” people’s password behaviors remain largely unchanged. People still engage in risky behavior such as choosing birthdays as passwords, not changing their passwords regularly, or, worse, writing down their passwords on a piece of paper that they tuck inside their wallets. Clearly, these are things that you must never do.  

2. Monitor your accounts regularly. People tend to check their accounts only when they’re expecting cash to come in or when they’re about to pay for something. Make it a habit to log on to your accounts so you can get a closer look at your transaction history.

Take a few minutes to study every entry and try to recall what each is for. If there are deductions that seem suspicious to you, call your bank and ask about them. At the very least, doing this would also make you more aware of how much money you’re spending.

3. Be careful with raffles and promos. Sure, we’re all enticed by promises of rewards from out of the blue. But, as they say, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Scammers take advantage of the sheer excitement that people feel when they’re told that they’re entitled to a prize. But why would you believe that you just won in a raffle that you’ve never joined? Besides, banks are not known for giving away cash for arbitrary reasons. Moreover, why would your credit card number suddenly be part of a rewards program that the bank has never publicized?

Learn to question everything that’s unusual, especially if you’re being promised money for no good reason.  

4. Avoid using public WiFi when shopping online. Public WiFi is great, but you have to be careful when you’re using it for financial transactions. Cybersecurity expert Kaspersky explains: “The same features that make free Wi-Fi hotspots desirable for consumers make them desirable for hackers; namely, that it requires no authentication to establish a network connection. This creates an amazing opportunity for the hacker to get unfettered access to unsecured devices on the same network.”

Kaspersky goes on to note that with free Wi-Fi, the hacker is able to “position himself between you and the connection point.” So instead of connecting directly with the hotspot, you end up sending your information to the hacker. Kaspersky adds, “While working in this setup, the hacker has access to every piece of information you’re sending out on the Internet: important emails, credit card information and even security credentials to your business network.” Using the said information, the hacker can then easily access your systems anytime.

5. Double check the website before transacting. Scammers have gone out of their way to build websites that look like legitimate sites. You have to make sure that you’re logging on to the real thing before you type in your payment credentials. If you’re not too sure if the site is legitimate, call the company’s customer service hotline and ask them what their official URL is. Yes, this is as Old School and as analog as it gets, but it always pays to be extra cautious when it comes to financial transactions.

6. Do not overshare your holiday plans. You’re free to happily announce what you’re doing for the holidays, but keep in mind that your revelations could be used by scammers. For instance, if you say that you’ll be out of town and taking a break from the online world until New Year’s Day, then scammers will know when to intensify their efforts to hack your accounts. Since you’re on a self-imposed break from being online, then you’d probably be the last to know that your accounts have been compromised.

7. Give information cautiously. Think before you reveal details about yourself. Scammers have become very creative about gathering information from potential targets. For instance, they can launch an online challenge asking everyone to share their mother’s maiden name and their birthdays. These are details that are most likely used to verify accounts or create passwords. Would it really hurt you if you choose not to participate in these types of online challenges? It’s best if you skip them.

To make sure that you don’t end up being scammed during the holidays, all you need to do is to pay a little more attention to your online transactions. If Santa is known for making a list and checking it twice, then you better do the same with this cybersecurity checklist.

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