By: Emma Kavanagh
When it comes to the safety of shopping online, you want to be absolutely sure you are using a secure connection. All web browsers have the capability to use encryption to secure your data, scrambling it before transit so the receiving “host” computer has to reassemble it with a similar mathematical method. That makes it harder to eavesdrop on data as it moves from place to place.
When encryption is in use on a website, you’ll usually get the iconic “lock” icon on your browser – or a warning that things aren’t working as intended. But in many cases, even browser encryption isn’t necessarily safe: You need a robust, up-to-date antivirus and network security solution to protect yourself.
Avoiding Public Networks is One Key to Staying Safe
I know that shopping online is fun and exciting, and finding great deals online is one of my favorite pastimes. That said, though, you should never be tempted to surf on a connection that you aren’t absolutely certain is secure.
That means avoiding surfing your favorite stores or any other sensitive websites when you are visiting a hotel, an internet cafe, or anywhere else that a public connection can be made. You should also be extra careful with wireless connections.
What happens when you go shopping online without total connection security? Well, if you’re lucky, nothing. But it’s not a good idea to trust your confidential financial data to luck, especially since it’s so easy for hackers to eavesdrop on insecure connections and very difficult to undo the damage they can cause once they have access to any of your private information.
What’s the Worst That Can Happen? It’s a Long Story!
There are lots of dangers that can come from using an unsecure connection, but let’s focus on some of the major ones. When people think about enhancing their online security, they are usually thinking about these issues:
1. Identity Theft
It takes only a small amount of information for an experienced hacker to completely upend your life. Luckily, government websites and other organizations that might collect your Social Security Number for legitimate purposes usually use the strongest encryption. Still, a lot of damage can be done with information as basic as your name, address, phone number, and date of birth. Combining that info with social media can give a hacker, who is often associated with organized crime, the ability to open lines of credit and other accounts in your name.
2. Bogus Purchases
Although this is a subset of identity theft, it deserves its own mention. Most of the information that traverses the Internet during your online shopping experience is personal and has to do with your method of payment. When a hacker cracks into this transmission, he or she can get instant access to all the information necessary to use your credit card. That includes the credit card number, security panel number, expiration date, and more. Some cards don’t allow shipping to addresses other than the billing address, but most do, and hackers will run your card to the limit.
3. Spyware & Malware
Sometimes, it’s the proprietors of sites without a secure connection that you have to worry about. They gather information about your shopping habits and collect data that you might send them willingly. Then, before or just after making what seems like a legitimate purchase, you find that your computer is acting strangely and seems to be infected with something. Many pieces of malware act like antivirus programs, inflicting damage on your computer and then demanding a credit card number to run an “antivirus scan.” Needless to say, you should never go for it!
Online Shopping Safety Tips
Use these online shopping safety tips to protect yourself:
- Use only a hard-wired not wireless, private online connection from within your home.
- Use only a modern, up-to-date browser that supports 128-bit or greater SSL encryption.
- Shop only with major brands that you recognize and trust, or familiar, trusted websites.
- Close your browser and restart your computer after each transaction to remove data.
- Use the best online security and antivirus software you can find, and keep it updated.
Time for the Next Big Online Shopping Deal? Look Before You Leap
Millions of people use electronic commerce safely and effectively each and every day. For the ones who find themselves caught in a hacker’s trap, however, undoing the damage can take years and might cost thousands of dollars. As with any crime of opportunity, making yourself a tougher target will make it much less likely that hackers can or will mess with your data. Using an industry-leading security solution like Norton 360 is one way to harden your perimeter and protect your data from the bad guys.
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