The resurgance of stolen banking details via ATM machines over the weekend reminds us how important it is to protect ourselves when banking or shopping - both in the real world and online. From our March issue of NetGuide, The Online Shopping Experiment, we round up the top secure shopping tips from our friends at Microsoft. How many are you following?
1) Look for signs that the business is legitimate. Buy from reputable stores and sellers. Here are some ways to check:
- Find out what other shoppers say. Sites like Epinions.com or BizRate have customer evaluations which can help you determine a company’s legitimacy.
- Look for third-party seals of approval. Companies can put these seals on their sites if they abide by a set of rigorous standards such as how personal information can be used. Two seals to look for are Better Business Bureau Online (USA and Canadian sites) and TRUSTe.If you see the seals, click them to make sure they link to the organisation that created them.Some unscrupulous merchants will put these logos on their websites without permission.
2) Look for signs that the website protects your data.
- On the webpage where you enter your credit card or other personal information, look for an "s” after http in the web address of that page. Encryption is a security measure that scrambles data as it traverses the internet. Also make sure there is a tiny closed padlock in the address bar, or on the lower right corner of the window
3) Use a filter that warns you of suspicious websites. Find a filter that warns you of suspicious sites and blocks visits to reported phishing sites. For example, try the SmartScreen Filter included in Internet Explorer.
4) Keep your web browser updated.
5) Create strong passwords. A strong password is an important protection to help you have safer online transactions. Here are steps you can take to create a strong password. Some or all might help protect your online transactions:
- Length. Make your passwords long with eight or more characters.
- Complexity. Include letters, punctuation, symbols and numbers. Use the entire keyboard, not just the letters and characters you use or see most often. The greater the variety of characters in your password, the better. However, password hacking software automatically checks for common letter-to-symbol conversions, such as changing "and” to "&” or "to” to "2”.
- Variation. To keep strong passwords effective, change them often. Set an automatic reminder for yourself to change your passwords on your email, banking and credit card websites about every three months.
- Variety. Don’t use the same password for everything. Cybercriminals steal passwords on websites that have very little security and then they use that same password and user name in more secure environments, such as banking websites.
Some other strategies for strong passwords include testing your password with a password checker to evaluate its strength automatically (try Microsoft’s secure password checker: tinyurl.com/3qdmohy) and avoiding common password pitfalls. Cyber criminals use sophisticated tools that can rapidly decipher passwords. Avoid creating passwords that use:
- Dictionary words in any language.
- Words spelled backwards, common misspellings and abbreviations.
- Sequences or repeated characters. Examples: 12345678, 22222222, abcdefg, or adjacent letters on your keyboard (qwerty).
- Personal information. Your name, birthday, driver’s license, passport number, or similar information.
6) Never make online financial transactions on a public or shared computer. Public computers in libraries, internet cafés and copy shops are convenient, but not always safe. It’s fine touse them to browse for gifts, but make sure you use a secure computer whenever you enter your credit card information.
7) Give only enough information to make the purchase. Be wary if a merchant asks for additional information like bank account information, social security number, or other personal information. You could be on a fraudulent site.
8) Protect your credit card online. You don’t have to limit your shopping to the most popular retailers to stay safe online. You can use a third-party payment service like PayPal to shield your credit card number from online merchants.
9) Check your statements. If you think you might have given away personal or financial information to a cybercriminal, check your bank and credit card statements. You should do this regularly, especially over the holidays.
For more information and safety tips, visit www.microsoft.com/security.