Shopping Safely Online
Online shopping has become a popular way to purchase items without the hassles of
traffic and crowds. However, the Internet has unique risks, so it is important to take
steps to protect yourself when shopping online.
There are three common ways that attackers can take advantage of online shoppers:
- Targeting vulnerable computers – If you do not take steps to protect your computer
from viruses or other malicious code, an attacker may be able to gain access to
your computer and all of the information on it. It is also important for vendors to
protect their computers to prevent attackers from accessing customer databases.
- Creating fraudulent sites and email messages – Unlike traditional shopping, where
you know that a store is actually the store it claims to be, attackers can create
malicious web sites that mimic legitimate ones or create email messages that
appear to have been sent from a legitimate source. Charities may also be
misrepresented in this way, especially after natural disasters or during holiday
seasons. Attackers create these malicious sites and email messages to try to
convince you to supply personal and financial information.
- Intercepting insecure transactions – If a vendor does not use encryption, an
attacker may be able to intercept your information as it is being transmitted.
How can you protect yourself?
- Use and maintain anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software –
Protect yourself against viruses and Trojan horses that may steal or modify the
data on your own computer and leave you vulnerable by using anti-virus software
and a firewall. Make sure to keep your virus definitions up to date. Spyware or
adware hidden in software programs may also give attackers access to your data,
so use a legitimate anti-spyware program to scan your computer and remove any
of these files.
- Keep software, particularly your web browser, up to date – Install software patches
so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Many
operating systems offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should
- Evaluate your software's settings – The default settings of most software enable all
available functionality. However, attackers may be able to take advantage of this
functionality to access your computer. It is especially important to check the
settings for software that connects to the Internet. Apply the highest level of
security available that still gives you the functionality you need.
- Do business with reputable vendors – Before providing any personal or financial
information, make sure that you are interacting with a reputable, established
vendor. Some attackers may try to trick you by creating malicious web sites that
appear to be legitimate, so you should verify the legitimacy before supplying any
information. Locate and note phone numbers and physical addresses of vendors in
case there is a problem with your transaction or your bill.
- Take advantage of security features – Passwords and other security features add
layers of protection if used appropriately.
- Be wary of emails requesting information – Attackers may attempt to gather
information by sending emails requesting that you confirm purchase or account
information. Legitimate businesses will not solicit this type of information through
- Check privacy policies – Before providing personal or financial information, check
be stored and used.
- Make sure your information is being encrypted – Many sites use SSL, or secure
sockets layer, to encrypt information. Indications that your information will be
encrypted include a URL that begins with "https:" instead of "http:" and a padlock
icon. If the padlock is closed, the information is encrypted. The location of the icon
varies by browser; for example, it may be to the right of the address bar or at the
bottom of the window. Some attackers try to trick users by adding a fake padlock
icon, so make sure that the icon is in the appropriate location for your browser.
- Use a credit card – There are laws to limit your liability for fraudulent credit card
charges, and you may not have the same level of protection for your debit card.
Additionally, because a debit card draws money directly from your bank account,
unauthorized charges could leave you with insufficient funds to pay other bills. You
can further minimize damage by using a single credit card with a low credit line for
all of your online purchases.
- Check your statements – Keep a record of your purchases and copies of
confirmation pages, and compare them to your bank statements. If there is a
discrepancy, report it immediately.