The global pandemic has impacted our lives and changed nearly every aspect of our daily routine. From virtual learning and remote work to Zoom happy hours and birthday parties, COVID-19 has forced all of us to re-think how we connect, learn and work.
But there’s an invisible threat riding the coattails of COVID-19, and it’s caused by the massive shift in working from home. Computer hacking is up more than 330 percent, according to CPA Practice Advisor, and it’s because nearly 42 percent of the workforce continues to work from home (via Stanford).
And now that the holiday season is here, our shopping habits will mirror our work ones: nearly all online. This shift in behavior will make us as consumers more vulnerable to cyber scams and phishing attacks as we continue to shop, work and play across all our at-home devices, warns John Dickerson, Veracity Consulting’s infrastructure architect and cyber security subject matter expert.
Research via McAfee found 35 percent of U.S. consumers plan to spread holiday cheer digitally this year, with online shopping already on the rise. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed stated they are already purchasing more online this year than in the past due to COVID-19, and 18 percent are shopping online every day.
But consumers need to be aware of what’s happening in the background of their screens at the click of every link: 419 threats per minute were detected in Q2 this year—a 12 percent increase from Q1 (via McAfee). And as online activity will peak this month, consumers can expect threats to rise as well, says Dickerson.
“With the rise of consumers working from home, coupled with our busy lifestyles during the holidays, we’re more vulnerable than in previous months,” he warned. “We’re moving from work email to personal email to holiday shopping and more – and quickly – and this can lead to a lapse in judgement.”
If consumers receive a shipping notification from what looks like either Amazon or Target at a quick glance, for example, they may not notice minor text alterations in the from address or in links, adds Dickerson. These could be additions, omissions or transpositions of letters, and they’re easy to overlook.
But there are a few simple steps we can take to ensure we’re savvy, smart shoppers this holiday season. Below, Dickerson shares his quick tips to help us foil phishermen while we continue to work and shop from home:
- Be vigilant. Be aware. When we move too fast, we can quickly assume an email or link looks legitimate when, in fact, a name or “from” address could be just slightly out of order.
- Update your operating system when prompted. There are new risks daily, so make sure you’re staying on top of these updates.
- Make sure you’re using the latest versions of your application software on your Internet browser or for any app installed on your devices.
- Think about other devices connected in your home network, and follow a similar method. Update the software, shop with caution and triple-check before you click.
- Secure your at-home Wi-Fi network to mitigate vulnerabilities and outside threats. Simple tips include changing the default name of the network and giving it a strong and unique password.
Remember: cyberattackers look for those who are most exposed. Secure your devices and your network just like you would your home. This will make your holiday the most wonderful time of the year, instead of the most vulnerable.
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About John Dickerson
John Dickerson is an infrastructure architect and security subject matter expert at Veracity Consulting, a tech consulting team of trusted advisors and problem solvers. With over 30 years of experience across the federal and commercial sectors, John brings a wealth of knowledge and hands-on knowledge in cyber security, infrastructure and enterprise architecture, cloud computing, networking, virtualization and project management. He teaches a variety of college courses in cyber security and IT networking, cloud technologies and programming. Learn more at veracityIT.com and connect with us on LinkedIn or Twitter @engageveracity.