Be cyber-secure this holiday season!

During busy shopping seasons, online shoppers are especially vulnerable to cyber criminals hoping to steal credit card and other sensitive data. Here are some of the top measures you can take to secure your data and help ensure you don’t fall prey to online attacks.

  • Be on the lookout for phishing and smishing scams. Phishing is one of the main ways criminals can hack into your accounts—deceiving you into clicking on dangerous links or taking other actions. Smishing is similar to phishing, except that malicious links are sent in Short Message Service (SMS) or text messages to scam you. When you recognize the signs of such scams, you can better protect yourself from identify and financial theft.
  • Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) services. Google 2-Step Verification as well as other 2FA services (such as or those provided by banks, email providers, and e-commerce sites) prevent hackers from accessing your accounts, even if they obtain your login and password information via a phishing or smishing scam or malicious website.
  • Keep your software and systems up-to-date. Install the latest security patches and software updates on all your devices to help prevent hackers from exploiting weaknesses in outdated apps (to gain access to your personal and financial data). See NC State’s guide for Mobile Device Security and resources for antivirus software and other approved antivirus products.
  • Use trusted apps. Install only the mobile apps from trusted sources, such as Android, Apple or Amazon app stores. Research feedback on the lesser-known apps and don’t download apps that request access to mobile features they shouldn’t require. When in doubt, skip the download and find another app.
  • Keep unique and strong passwords. Refer to NC State’s Password Standard and suggestions on use of passphrases for password strength.
  • Be wary of delivery notifications. Phishers often use fake delivery notifications during the shopping season. Do not click delivery-notification links from emails you aren’t expecting. It is also best to go directly to USPS, UPS, and FedEx sites to track your deliveries.
  • Keep watch over your accounts. Credit cards often have no-fault protections against fraud when misuse is identified. Set up alerts for any card you use, whether debit or credit, and check your accounts regularly to help identify suspicious activity. Even the smallest charge could be a sign of fraud, so report anything you don’t recognize to your banking or credit card institution immediately.
  • Only shop using secure networks. Limit your use of public networks to general browsing, and never make purchases or access accounts on unsecured networks, which would leave you more visible to hackers.
  • Shop secure sites. Ensure any website you purchase from has https:// in the address bar during checkout. The “s” means it’s a secure connection, and also that your personal data will be encrypted during the buying process.
  • Shop trusted sites. Beware of clicking advertising links to unknown sites. Fraudulent sites post online ads to lure unsuspecting shoppers (and gain their financial information). If a sale is too good to be true, it probably is! The same is true for sites boasting big giveaways and free software downloads. Shop well-known sites with good reputations. Consider using secure reputation software that gives ratings for trusted and untrusted sites.
  • Avoid fake charities. When making donations, research charitable organizations on Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau to avoid scams.