Preparing for Black Friday Shopping? Stay Safe With These Top Online Security Tips Staff
Preparing for Black Friday Shopping? Stay Safe With These Top Online Security Tips
With Black Friday just around the corner, many online shoppers are preparing to go on their biggest online shopping spree of the year. While we certainly recommend taking advantage of the many fantastic offers available at this time of year, it’s also prudent to take a number of measures to ensure that you don’t become a victim of identity theft or fraud.

Here are our top recommendations for what you can do to keep your personal details safe and secure this Black Friday season

Get Your VPN Up and Running If You’re Not at Home

We’re big fans of VPNs. A VPN can help spoof your location and give you access to all kinds of deals that you would otherwise not be eligible for. But when it comes to online shopping, a VPN also fulfills a very important purpose. It creates a secure, encrypted communications tunnel between your computer and the VPN server, which then creates a regular (unencrypted) communication to the rest of the internet, such as the online shopping websites that you surely plan on frequenting. 

Unless you’re using your home internet network (and know and trust every device on the network) it’s vitally important that you use a VPN whenever you are shopping online. This is because hackers, Man in the Middle (MITM) attackers and other nefarious cyberfoes could be lurking on the network ready to snatch up your credit card details. What’s worse, your home address is probably included in the order too. Public WiFi hotspots put you at heightened vulnerability for this attack strategy, so it’s essential that you use one if you buy so much as a pencil online while connected to this kind of network. 

Fancy someone from your local café robbing your credit card and knowing where you live too? We didn’t think so. Play it safe and get a VPN

Strong Passwords + Two Factor Authentication = Better Security

If you rely on using a simple text password string for all your online accounts, then you are putting yourself at significant risk of identity theft and having your account compromised. 

Why? Hackers are often able to use a technique called brute-forcing to forcibly attempt to guess the password that you’re using. With the help of special programs, hackers simply automatically attempt every possible combination of your password until they successfully find the right one. And once they have access to your account, your home address, personal details, and all your payment information could be readily up for grabs.

Because this remains a significant threat for online shoppers, there are 4 password recommendations that we recommend you follow:

Use as strong a password as possible

Considering how dictionary-based brute force hacking works, it’s important to use as strong a password as possible. Because it’s hard for non-experts to differentiate what constitutes a secure password compared to those that are not actually that robust, there are a number of websites that will specifically evaluate the strength of your password. These even tell you how long it would take your typical machine-assisted hacker to automatically breach your password — which can range from several seconds to several decades!

In general, we recommend aiming for a password that is at least ten characters long, uses numbers, has at least one capital letter, and uses at least one symbol. This all makes it more difficult for a hacker to crack your code.

Change passwords frequently

Security experts recommend that you change your password between every 30 and 180 days. There are plenty of reasons for this but consider — at a minimum — that this is the maximum amount of time it would take for you to discover that you have been hacked. 

Don’t use the same password for every website

Not using the same password on every single website that you visit is another vital part of password hygiene that could prevent you from suffering catastrophic identity theft this Black Friday purchasing season. The reason for this is obvious: if a hacker gains access to one account, then every other account you own could be compromised. For more sophisticated hackers with the ability to spoof SIM cards, even text-based multi-factor authentication could not be enough to protect your security in the event of a successful breach. The hacker only needs to recreate the contact number provided in to your account in order to access other services protected by sending a 2FA code to this credentials. 

Use 2-factor authentication whenever possible

A 2-factor authentication system requires that a second credential be entered in addition to the username and password to gain access to an account. The second credential is a One Time Password (OTP) that’s typically generated by a special app, such as Google Authenticator. Using a 2-factor authentication on all your online shopping accounts makes the job of hackers exponentially more difficult. Although not all online retailers support this technology, those that don’t are quickly catching up and adding it as an account feature. 

Use an Internet Security Tool

Even if you are using a VPN, it’s still possible to fall victim to phishing websites that are not operating over your local network. Cyber-fraudsters have long sought methods to replicate the look and feel of popular online shopping forums in order to dupe vulnerable users into signing up for accounts and placing orders. The best defense against these operators is to install an internet security program on your computer. Commonly, these also come with browser extensions that provide an additional layer of security. Programs such as these automatically flag any known phishing URLs that the user opens. Although many operating systems provide a built-in tool to offer some degree of functionality, if you plan on doing a significant amount of shopping this Black Friday season it’s recommended to invest in a standalone, third-party tool.

If you’re planning on going on an online shopping frenzy this Black Friday, it’s vital to protect yourself. Always use a VPN, practice good password hygiene, use 2-factor authentication whenever it’s offered, and install a reliable internet security program. Doing all this should keep you safely out of harm’s way. Staff's editorial staff is a professional team of editors, writers and experts with dozens of years of experience covering consumer, financial and business products and services.