Cyber Monday: With consumers spending up to $1 bn in online sales on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), they are expected to begin round two today as they look for more great bargains and knock a few more items off their holiday shopping list.

Online shopping is great, but if you’re not careful, you could be the recipient of a lot more than you bargained for. Today is a feast day for hackers as they step up their efforts to trick and defraud online shoppers.

You may encounter legitimate websites that have been compromised and are delivering malware. Hackers have been doing a lot of background work to poison search engine results (a method known as SEO poisoning) for keywords such as “Cyber Monday Sales”, “Coupons”, and other attractive terms people search for related to the day. In these instances, cybercriminals are trying to get you and others to click on one of the top links in Google and other search engines and redirect you to a website that is hosting malware.

Phishing attacks aimed at mobile platforms, compromised websites serving up drive-by downloads, and shady campaigns on popular social networking sites (such as Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook), will all be things you should be mindful of when shopping online. Tactics are not limited to one platform alone, so you can be at risk even when using your phone or tablet. No platform is safe or malware-proof.

Here are some security tips to consider while shopping online today:

1. Secure your PC, network and devices

Be sure the computer you use has, at a minimum, a firewall, up-to-date antivirus software and the latest version of whichever web browser you are running. At home, ensure your wireless network is password-protected. If you must shop online in a public place, avoid using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. If you have a smartphone, download an antivirus and antimalware app for it.

2. Use strong passwords

A strong, alphanumeric password with at least eight characters is an easy way to help defend your personal information online. It is also recommended that you use different user names and passwords for each online account you have.

3. Shop on trusted, secure websites

Before entering your personal financial information to make a transaction, always make sure that you are using a site that provides encryption for the credit card transaction. Look for the closed padlock on the browser’s address bar or at the bottom of the screen. Also check the browser’s address bar to confirm that the URL begins with “https”, signifying a secure site that provides encrypted communication. When using your smartphone, pay attention to what information a site or app is requesting.

4. Protect personal information

Most online shopping will require disclosing information to process a transaction. It is normal to provide contact information like an address and phone number, and, when prompted, your credit card number. However, be wary of any request for additional information, especially if it is received by email claiming to confirm a purchase or asking for additional information. Always contact the merchant directly if you have any doubt about requests for personal information you receive. When using your smartphone, pay attention to what information a site or app is requesting.

5. Be careful what you click

While searching online for deals and product reviews, be careful about clicking on hyperlinks you run across in search engine results and holiday e-cards, as well as on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, even if it appears that your friends are suggesting a link for you. Always verify the URL address—especially shortened URLs—of any link you run across to ensure it will direct you to a safe, reputable website. One wrong click can lead to malware that could end your holiday shopping season early.

6. Is your software up-to-date?

Cybercriminals have shifted their attack from Windows to third-party applications like Java or Adobe. Out-of-date (unpatched) versions of these programs have vulnerabilities that are found with exploit kits to get malware running. The shift has been so dramatic that over 75% of infections today use this attack vector. This problem of out-of-date software is so widespread, over 50% of all Windows-based computers are wide-open to this type of attack. Check your software products regularly and run updates regularly, especially third-party products. You can also automate the process using VIPRE Internet Security 2013, the first AV product to have integrated patch management.

Have a great Cyber Monday but please be careful and think twice before visiting sites that look risky or you have never seen before. Better safe than sorry.

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