As any movie produced by a card company will tell you, traditions are the best part of the holiday season. They bring families together, offer comfort and make us nostalgic for some of our favourite childhood holidays.
But while our traditions exist to make the holiday season brighter, cyber criminals’ traditions do just the opposite. They want to make your holiday more stressful by putting your personal information, money, and devices in jeopardy.
To stay safe this season, explore the other side of holiday traditions with us and take some time to create new ones that thwart the efforts of cyber-Scrooges.
They’re writing letters… to steal your information
There’s no better time for mail than the holiday season. It’s the one part of the year where you can open up your mailbox and have hope for something better than a bill inside. Like a cash-filled card from grandma, a heartfelt letter from your family across the country, or just that gift you ordered for yourself while “shopping for other people”.
But cyber criminals are writing letters, too — or at least, they’re writing emails and texts. And while they might seem just as wholesome on the surface, a closer look can tell you that they’re more naughty than nice. These messages are phishing attempts that cyber criminals use to steal your information.
Phishing messages are made to look like they’re from legitimate stores or services, or even from people you know. They often seem urgent, telling you to do something right now or face consequences. And they’re usually trying to get you to do one of three things: click a link, download a file, or reply back with personal information.
However, if you know the signs, you can avoid falling for these messages. Make sure you’re prepared before the mail starts pouring in by reviewing the very festive red flags of phishing.
They’re wrapping up… unsafe files
Cleverly concealed gifts aren’t just for good people. Just like your parents may have weighed down your gifts with cans to trick you in to thinking you were getting something huge, cyber criminals disguise malware and other harmful files as seemingly urgent email attachments and too-good-to-be-true downloads.
Opening a bad gift is always awkward. But the consequences of opening a bad file are a lot worse than having to fake a smile. Malware can do anything from stealing or deleting your files, to holding them for ransom, or shutting your device down completely. Some malware even continues to spread its “holiday cheer” to your family and friends through your contact list.
To protect yourself, never download or open unexpected attachments in emails or text messages. Avoid websites offering pirated videos, music or games — they’re a hotbed for these digital “gifts”. If you’re unsure about an attachment, reach out to the person who sent it to verify its legitimacy.
They’re cracking open… your accounts
Whether it’s presents, party crackers or nutshells, breaking things open is a huge part of the holidays. This is true for cyber criminals, too — except instead of cracking open a walnut in a wooden soldier’s mouth, they’re opening up something way more important: your accounts.
Cyber criminals use all sorts of methods to do this. Sometimes, they use software to generate and test thousands of potential passwords. Sometimes they start by phishing you to get the information they need. And sometimes, they’re just piggybacking on another site’s security breach. If you use the same login information for multiple accounts, you’re especially vulnerable when this happens.
Make your password harder to crack by using at least 12 characters, including upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. Better yet, use a passphrase: a series of at least four random words that’s over 15 characters long. And to make that password even stronger, enable multi-factor authentication wherever possible, so you have an extra step in place if a cyber criminal ever does get your password.
We all have our own seasonal traditions. Unfortunately, some of them don’t bring people holiday cheer. To counter the traditions of a cyber criminal, why not add a cyber-safe holiday tradition to your festivities? Sing along to our cyber safe carols , play our card game (coming soon!) or read by the fire with our blog. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a cyber safe and happy holiday season!