Eyes Wide Open!

With the approach of the holiday shopping season and Cyber Monday, a new survey released this week demonstrates the importance of mobile online safety as more businesses and consumers are taking part in digital shopping via smartphones.

Last week, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee released their annual home user study, revealing insights about how our digital shopping practices and behaviors could impact our online safety and our nation's collective digital infrastructure.

 The survey, conducted for NCSA and McAfee by Zogby International on a wide variety of online safety topics, showed that consumers in greater numbers will utilize their smartphones or other mobile devices to browse online stores, research products and goods, and make purchases. Some of the mobile shopping trends highlighted by the study include:

  • In the last six months, 50% of Americans have researched potential purchases, 27% have shopped, 18% have made online payments, and 12% have purchased goods from auction sites from their smartphone at least once.
  • Three in four (75%) smartphone users access the Internet more frequently on their devices today than they did one year ago, and 23% have added an app for banking to the smartphone in the last six months.
  • Despite the increased adoption of mobile activities, 72% of those polled admit to having no security software. According to McAfee researchers, the number of new mobile malware in 2010 increased by 46% compared with 2009, and mobile malware is expected to affect more than 1 in 20 devices within the next 12 to 24 months.

These numbers demonstrate a continued trend of Americans shopping from their smartphones in larger numbers as last year's report showed activities of researching potential purchases from their phones at only 16% and those making online payments at 8%.

While online shopping is an increasingly popular activity, consumers are approaching their online transactions with some caution. Additional findings from the study include:

  • 42% say that in the past year, they have stopped or abandoned a purchase on a website because of a safety or security concern
  • 56% say they have stopped or abandoned a purchase because they were not sure the website was secure
  • 53% say because the site requested more information than they thought was necessary

Michael Kaiser, Executive Director of the National Cyber Security Alliance "These findings illustrate our ever-increasing reliance on mobile technology in our daily lives. Technology has enabled us to enhance our shopping experience with the ability to research pricing, reviews, and product purchase options with ease not previously possible," said. "With this new convenience comes a new responsibility to practice vigilance this shopping season. People must be aware of the risks they face when making purchases online and ensure that they are using sound judgment to protect their personal information and prevent the loss of data."

Todd Gebhart, co-president of McAfee "Users on all devices can run into threats from online criminals," said. "Online shoppers are being cautious with their purchase behavior, but cyber threats have also grown more sophisticated and widespread than ever before. Mobile threats are growing exponentially, and this new survey illustrates the need for consumers to protect all of their devices--including smartphones and tablets."

As a convenience to mobile users, NCSC and McAfee include tips to ensure stronger online safety this holiday season, as well as the “12 Scams of Christmas” to heighten awareness of possible intrusions on digital safety. NCSA advises that everyone take a moment to practice safe cyber behaviors as they prepare for Cyber Monday and a holiday season of increased online shopping.  

Excerpts from the STOP.THINK.CONNECT awareness campaign:

  • Keep security software current. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Smartphones, gaming systems, and other web-enabled devices also need protection from viruses and malware
  • Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you conduct business on that site. And, combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password
  • Only provide the minimal amount of information needed to complete a transaction. When providing personal information for any purchase or other reason, ensure that you know who is asking for the information, and why they need it
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it's best to delete or, if appropriate, mark as junk email
  • When banking and shopping, check to be sure the websites you visit are security enabled. Look for web addresses with "https://" or "shttp://", which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. "Http://" is not secure
  • Research online retailers before a first time purchase from a merchant (or auction seller) new to you. Be wary of communications that implore you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information

And finally, be mindful of holiday shopping efforts to lure you. Cyber crooks will adjust to the holiday season, trying to get you to click through to deals that may appear too good to be true. They may also try to trick you by sending emails that something has gone wrong with an online purchase. McAfee recently released a list of the most popular scams on the Internet during the holiday season.

The 12 Scams of Christmas:

  • Mobile Malware:  Malware targeted at mobile devices is on the rise, and Android smartphones are most at risk. And, new malware has recently been found that targets QR codes, a digital barcode that consumers might scan with their smartphone
  • Malicious Mobile Applications - Dangerous apps such as games. Last year, 4.6 million Android smartphone users downloaded a suspicious wallpaper app that collected and transmitted user data to a site in China.
  • Phony Facebook Promotions and Contests –cyberscammers have sprinkled Facebook with phony promotions and contests aimed at gathering personal information. A recent scam advertised two free airline tickets, requiring participants to fill out multiple surveys requesting personal information.
  • Fake Antivirus software – Scareware is the fake antivirus software that tricks someone into believing that their computer is at risk, or infected, so they agree to download it. This is one of the most common and dangerous Internet threats today, with an estimated one million victims falling for this scam each day.
  • Holiday Screensavers—A recent search for a Santa screensaver that promises to let you “fly with Santa in 3D” is malicious.  Holiday-themed ringtones and e-cards have been known to be malicious too.
  • Mac Malware –With the growing popularity of Apple products, for both business and personal use, cybercriminals have designed a new wave of malware directed squarely at Mac users.
  • Holiday Phishing Scams – Phishing is the act of tricking consumers into revealing information or performing actions they wouldn’t normally do online using phony email or social media posts. E.G.1 A phony notice from UPS, saying you have a package and need to fill out an attached form asking for personal or financial details that will go straight into the hands of the cyberscammer. E.G.2 Banking phishing scams. From July to September of this year, McAfee Labs identified approximately 2,700 phishing URLs per day. E.G.3 Scammers send their fake messages via a text alert to a phone to collects the user’s personal information including Social Security number, address, and account details, to reactivate a bank “compromised” bank account
  • Online Coupon Scams – 63% of shoppers search for online coupons or deals when they purchase something on the Internet, and recent NRF data shows that consumers are also using their smartphones  and tablets to redeem those coupons. By offering an irresistible online coupon, scammers can get people to hand over some of their personal information.
  • Mystery Shopper Scams – people who are hired to shop in a store and report back on the customer service.  Scammers send text messages to victims, offering to pay them $50 an hour to be a mystery shopper, and instructing them to call a number if they are interested, and ask for their personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers.
  • Hotel “Wrong Transaction” Malware Emails – Travel-related scams. Recently, a scammer sent out emails that appeared to be from a hotel, claiming that a “wrong transaction” had been discovered on the recipient’s credit card, asking them to fill out an attached refund form. Once opened, the attachment downloads malware.
  • Hot Gift Scams – Sold out hot holiday gifts, advertised by scammers on rogue websites and social networks, even if they don’t have them.  Consumers could wind up paying for an item and giving away credit card details only to receive nothing in return.
  • “I’m away from home” Scammers – Posting information about a vacation on social networking sites could be dangerous. A quick online search can easily turn up their home address.

Jim Walter, manager at McAfee Labs, concludes by noting that “... with the increase in malware and other attacks on smartphones, tablets and Macs, users need to stay vigilant and ensure they protect all of their devices, not just their home PC. They can’t afford to leave the door open to cyber-grinches during the busy holiday season.”

To read more about the study, please visit here, or for the complete details about the 12 Scams of Christmas, go here.




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