What a difference a year makes.
Many of us are now getting ready for the holidays but before we jump into this year’s holiday shopping season, now is a good time to pause and think about where we are in terms of the security of our shopping experiences. It’s especially good to compare where we are this year with where we were last year. Because when we look at what’s happened in the past year, it’s clear that we are facing what could be the most dangerous holiday shopping season ever.
It may sound scary to say this could be the most dangerous holiday shopping season ever. But the fact is when we look at this holiday shopping season and compare it with last year’s, we can see three things that have changed that make all forms of holiday shopping more dangerous for everyone (except those using just cash):
Any one of these changes would be enough to increase alarm this holiday shopping season. But combined, all of these mean that there are significantly increased risks for online and in-store shopping. Your credit and debit cards are under threat like never before this holiday season.
The good news is that the critical flaws affecting the security of online transactions have been or are being fixed by many online retailers. But not everyone is fixing this problem. And there haven’t been any significant improvements in the security of point-of-sale systems. In fact, the bad guys are continuing to make improvements in PoS malware (as our researcher Kyle Wilhoit has shown recently). Finally, the security of your information being held by others continues to be spotty: you just don’t know how safe your data (including credit and debit card information) is.
What does this mean for you?
It means the odds are very good that the credit or debit card you use this holiday season will be compromised at some point. The situation is bad enough that even experts in online security like me are seeing their information being compromised (as I detailed in March 2014).
But unless you’re only going to pay with cash in a store all the time, you’re going to have to accept some of these risks. What can you do to minimize the chances of something bad happening or if it does, minimizing its impact?
There are four things you can and should do.
Will these things prevent anything bad happening? No. But they will go a long way to minimize the chance of bad things happening. And if something bad should happen, they can minimize the impact of it.
Sadly, the increased risks you’re facing aren’t going away when the holidays are over (or even when the holiday credit card bills are paid). This represents the new normal for the foreseeable future. 2014 will be remembered as a year when we turned a corner when it comes to the security of purchases. Unfortunately, we can’t know when we’re going to turn the next corner and things will get better. This means these steps I’ve outlined shouldn’t be what you do for the holiday shopping season: they should be what you do, all the time now.
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