Firms warn online shoppers to be on lookout for ‘opportunistic cybercriminals’ over Christmas

Ahead of the festive season, cybersecurity firms are warning online shoppers to be on the lookout for “opportunistic cybercriminals” looking to take advantage of increased spending during sales.

With more than 60% of fraudulent transactions this year originating on a mobile device, Dell EMC Ireland is urging customers to be vigilant shopping online, particularly when making purchases with a mobile device.

Many people only associate malware attacks and viruses with desktop PCs and laptops, Dell EMC Ireland manager Gerry Murray said.

“But the truth is that as smartphone and tablet usage has increased, cybercriminals have created new ways of breaking into them and stealing personal details, including financial information,” he said.

Smartphones are likely to become the default attack point for criminals as customers begin to rely more on their phones to conduct their daily business, including paying bills and buying products, Mr Murray said.

Cybersecurity firm RSA predicts that the number of attacks targeting mobile devices is set to increase in 2017, with phishing scams to remain one of the biggest threats to online shoppers.

Phishing is an online fraud that tricks people into handing over personal and financial details using malware and social engineering.

Although newer threats such as ransomware and botnets have gained notoriety over the past year, phishing is still a threat to consumers, costing more than €8.5bn each year, according to RSA. Almost 100,000 phishing attacks have been recorded worldwide this year, with 958,304 incidents from January to the end of September. RSA said it expects this number to rise further in the coming months as a result of increased online shopping over Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.

There was more phishing attacks between April and June this year than in all of last year combined, according to RSA. Phishing attacks more than doubled between July and September compared to the same time last year, with a 54% increase in attacks recorded.

Online money transfer and bill pay services, hospitality businesses, and airlines and electronics retailers were the top three fraud targets in 2016, according to RSA.

“Christmas and New Year are perfect moments for opportunistic cybercriminals looking to take advantage of our increased online spend, particularly in sales,” said Mr Murray.

However, online shopping can be made a safe and convenient experience by using common sense and following basic security rules, Mr Murray added.

“When it comes to buying gifts online, shop with trusted retailers and recognisable brands,” he said. “If you’re suspicious, research on social media and online discussion forums to see if other shoppers have your concerns.”

Shoppers should avoid downloading apps and clicking on unsolicited links, he said adding that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

“At the online checkout, make sure your web address bar has a lock or shield icon,” said Mr Murray. “This means your connection is safe and can’t be intercepted by a third party. If you don’t see it, don’t buy.”

Mr Murray said shoppers should keep a log of every payment they make online over Christmas and compare it with their bank statement.

“If you think your account has been compromised, contact your bank immediately,” he said.

Meanwhile, IT security company ESET predicts a new cybercrime trend will emerge in 2017 — the possibility of criminals hijacking devices connected to the internet of things through ransomware and demanding a payment in exchange for restoring control to the user.

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