The holidays are here with all the end of year imperatives, forward looking plans and endless outside distractions. Sometimes I think the whole holiday madness was engineered simply to allow us to appreciate the cleanliness of the New Year. Christmas starts in August, fourth quarter fundraising begins in June and we scramble to make dinners, travel and get in the holiday spirit.

Yes, it is kind of fun, and the sad truth this is also holiday season for those folks on the planet whose goal it is to have you pay for their gifts.

As always, a little attention and effort in front of the fact can save lots of heartache and teeth gnashing later. Once we all come back from Thanksgiving, please take 30 minutes to review how secure your office and data are. There are bad people out there, don’t let them spoil one minute of your time.

Below are steps you can take to protect yourself as you conduct your personal business online.

1. Use Security Software. 

Security software helps protect your computer against the digital threats which are seemingly everywhere.prevalent online. Often, your operating system will include security software; there are free versions such as Avast. There are different services and software licenses that are fee based and add additional security features to their basic free version.

Crucial tools include:

  • firewall,
  • virus/malware protection,
  • spyware,
  • file encryption if you keep sensitive financial/tax documents on your computer.

Security suites often come with firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam, parental controls and privacy protection, determine what you need for your online situation.

*Do not buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or email! It’s likely from a scammer.
 

2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically.  

Set your security software to update automatically. Malware – malicious software – is updated constantly and your security software suite is updated routinely to keep pace. This is so easy, just click the button.

3. Look for the “S” for encrypted “https” websites.  

When shopping or banking online, always look to see that the site uses encryption to protect your information. Look for https at the beginning of the web address. The “s” is for means encryption software is working to make the page secure.Unencrypted sites begin with an http address.

Make sure the https carries through on all pages, not just the sign-on page.

4. Use Strong Passwords.    ( My particular pet peeve, I hate these things)

Use passwords of at least 10 to 12 characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. sometimes using a phrase helps, such s “Good Morning”

Duh:

  • Don’t use your name, birth date or common words.
  • Don’t use the same password for several accounts.
  • Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager.
  • Don’t share your password with anyone.
  • If you receive any calls, texts or emails that look like they are from a legitimate firm, maybe UPS or a bank asking you to update account information via a link with personal or financial information, DON’T.

These are generally scams, and if you do want to check anything out, go directly to that company’s website.

5. Secure your wireless network.  

A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows you to connect to the Internet from your router or a public hotspot. If this over-the-air network is unsecured and therefore open to anyone close by, access to internet is available to them for free,  and your computer and software systems are an open door they can come right through.

Bad guys can also hijack your wireless account to try online crimes, phishing or spam. This then looks like you are the one responsible.

Always encrypt your wireless. This is often an option that you must turn on and create a password when you set up your wireless router.  It is pretty simple and again, use a little thought when creating the password to allow access and be careful of who may use it.

6. Be cautious when using public wireless networks. Like Starbucks or the library.

Public wi-fi hotspots are convenient but often not secure. Tax or financial Information you send via websites or mobile apps may be seen and accessed by someone else. Again, check for the ‘s’ in https to see that the network insecure.

If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure, and if it does, be thoughtful about what information you choose to send over that network. As with many public facilities, watch and wash carefully.

7. Avoid phishing attempts.  

Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. Period. You do know this, but it does warrant repeating as the schemes become even more polished.

Emails from accounts that are fake can be so well copied, it can be tough to tell them from the real ones. And who doesn’t panic when they see an alert from their bank?

Good rule of thumb: trust, but verify. Go directly to the website of the company or institution for any inquiries. If anyone anytime and in any way, requests any important and sensitive information over the internet are more than likely not legitimate.Be more than wary and skeptical. Yes, it might take a few extra minutes up front, but better that than hours fixing things on the back end.

Why?

This quarter is one of the busiest, and it is the season of giving for crooks as well. These types are clear about their objectives, to steal, and have focused all their energies on how to do it best. Frankly, they are good at it or this part of the internet would be exploding as it has been.

As always an ounce of prevention is worth hours of aggravation and loss.

We can help walk through each of these steps quickly to increase your security and protection, call anytime.

Have a wonderful holiday season, be grateful.