Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday and Hackers

I can’t help but, to hum a few bars in my head of, "one of these things is not like the other.” Even when dealing with the title of this post in a tongue-in-cheek approach, it’s hard not to see these items as being different and still, unfortunately intertwined.

It is that time of year again when thoughts turn to shopping and deals, deals and more deals. There’s a deluge of emails that clog our inboxes trumpeting all manner of savings in a bid to have us jump online before the tryptophan-induced fog finally lifts. In those emails, and lurking online, are miscreants that are more than willing to separate you from your hard earned money.

A few years ago I wrote about some steps that you can take to better protect yourself online on our own Akamai blog. Here are five things that you can do to better protect yourself this Cyber Monday as you click away in search of savings.

1. Track your spending. The holiday season can be a blur of hopping from website to website and store to store. Be sure to check your credit card statements to be certain that they line up with your actual purchases.

2. Use reputable retailers. If you're unsure of a retailer…don't take the risk. Look them up at the Better Business Bureau ( or better yet, go elsewhere if you're having any hesitation. No need to put your finances at risk to save an extra $2 on that widget or grapple grommet.

3. Be judicious in your information disclosure. If you're buying something online take caution that you're not offering up more information than is absolutely necessary. Case in point, I was shopping at a national clothing store a couple years ago and the clerk was insisting that customers had to disclose their Social Security Number in order to complete the purchase as this was part of their current promotion. I declined and advised other shoppers in line that they shouldn't disclose their Social Security Number.

4. Password reuse is a huge problem. There really is no technical solution to this item as this rests with the user. When shopping online, almost every site out there asks you to create an account with the option to store your credit card information. If you do this be sure to use a unique password on each site as you do for any other account such as the one you use for banking. One of the issues that we have seen here at Akamai is a growing number of credentials being reused on multiple sites. Once a site gets compromised by an attacker they then end up replaying this login information on other online retailers. Ask yourself for a moment, why would you use the same username and password on a social media site as you do for banking? Let that sink in for a moment.

5. Check yourself before you click that link. Did you receive an email which appears to be from a retailer offering you a deal that is too good to pass up on? Well, quite possibly there is a good reason for that. When you receive a deal that offers you, as an example, a $200 gift card for filling out a survey – I would hope that alarms bells sound the alert. Be sure to use your better judgement before you chase after an offer that is possibly little more than a lure.

But wait, there’s more! Act now and I’ll add an extra piece of advice at no additional cost to you! Turn on two factor authentication for your accounts wherever possible. This will help to better protect your credentials and make it harder for criminals to gain access to your accounts. Whether is enabling it for Gmail, Twitter, Facebook or even at a corporate level (full disclosure, I work at Akamai) this is a good security practice to get into.

Be a security champion in your household and help those who might not be technically savvy to enable two factor authentication to protect them as well. Shop with confidence this season.

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