20/11/2017 13:25 GMT | Updated 20/11/2017 13:25 GMT

Black Friday: Shopper’s Paradise Or Hacker Heaven?


Black Friday is a date in the diaries of retail-lovers everywhere, but it was once available only to those who were willing to queue for hours on end outside of their favourite stores in America. Today, savvy shoppers the world over can get involved as they put their feet up on the coffee table. But a more convenient shopping experience for the consumer also offers extra opportunities for hackers.

Retailers are not the only ones who diligently plan for busy shopping periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Hackers do, too. Although, their plans often rely on consumer negligence. The heightened sense of excitement in purchasing a new TV at half price often conceals a far greater cost: sensitive information such as banking details stolen by a scam website or through counterfeit marketing emails. With the date closing in, shoppers need to be vigilant online and ensure they take all the necessary steps to protect their identities and personal information. By following these quick and easy tips, you can safely indulge in a shopping spree to end all shopping sprees.

Tip 1 – What to do when it’s too good to be true?

Email inboxes are regularly filled with promotional newsletters, with most of them being ignored or deleted. But on Black Friday, it’s different. Merchants are distributing their very best deals which consumers are eager to buy, resulting in a huge increase of traffic. However, it’s important to vet the email sender beforehand. This time of year is rife with wolves in sheep’s clothing.

First, check for spelling and grammatical errors. Would international retailers really have no internal editors there to fine-tune their correspondence? Also, check the web domain. A simple Google search will indicate whether or not the retailer should be trusted.

While some newsletters do share attachments, most will choose to leave all information embedded in the text. If an attachment is provided, validate the sender before it’s downloaded. The same goes for website addresses. Often, an address will be provided in the body of an email. If it arouses even the slightest scent of suspicion, copy the link into a browser. Do not click the link directly from the email itself.

And if all this talk of threats has got you concerned with shopping online, an extra level of security is available when purchasing certain items with your credit card rather than your debit card. If you’re thinking of splurging on something between £100 - £30,000 from a website you’ve never used before, then using your credit card ensures your purchase is protected. Meaning that if the goods don’t materialize, at least your bank balance doesn’t take the hit.

Tip 2 – Bargain hunting – anytime, anywhere

While public WiFi can often be the saviour of sticky situations and can help take the strain off a phone’s data allowance, it’s also vulnerable. WiFi signals go everywhere which plays into the hands of hackers, especially if they’re not secured. Connecting to the same public WiFi as a cyber-criminal means they can potentially access websites visited, browser histories, emails and login information of consumers.

This could also include banking information if the network is used to purchase goods. Whenever you’re a click away from that rug that really ‘ties the room together’, make sure the checkout you’re using is secure. If there’s no padlock in the browser to indicate the inputted information is secure, you shouldn’t be there either. Using a WiFi inspector to assess the security levels of the connection is a useful step to take, while a Virtual Private Network (VPN) also provides an extra layer of security.

Tip 3 – All devices, great and small, should be protected equally

When the winter begins to seep in, so do sore throats, chesty coughs and common colds. As a result, people do all they can to remain healthy – from woolly jumpers to flu jabs. The same care should be taken with phones, PCs and tablets. The access these devices have to sensitive information is worth a lot of money to cyber-criminals. But protection is as easy as installing an antivirus program.

While it’s important to exercise caution and follow the aforementioned steps, sometimes security threats are unavoidable. Antivirus software across all devices is essential. And there are a number of free packages available on the market that make it inexcusable to not have it installed. Alternatively, for a small annual subscription, extra layers of protection and security can be added, depending on your needs.

Tip 4 – Pick a password without your dog’s name in it

During Black Friday, many a shopper will have a number of tabs open, each one requiring your personal information login. Despite remembering separate passwords being a difficult task for many, it’s important to avoid using simplistic passwords or, worse, one for every account. Say no to your date of birth, rebel against your mother’s maiden name and for the sake of your personal information being lost to an online predator, choose something other than your pet’s name.

The best way to keep all these passwords safe and secure is to use a password manager. The tool keeps all passwords secured in one location, locked behind a master password. It adds an extra layer of automated security to the login process. This is a much better option than saving your passwords in a browser. If you’ve been hacked, it’s easy for cyber criminals to obtain your passwords and access your online accounts.

Tips and tools such as these will catch the threats that aren’t easily spotted, allowing shoppers to take advantage of all the Black Friday offers without any worries. Well, apart from the one that you might spend all of your earnings before payday’s even arrived.