Q&A: Ask the Expert

Don’t get caught with your firewalls downQuestion: My family is on a tight budget for the holidays. To avoid overspending, I want to do all of our shopping online. But I’m worried about hackers, viruses and scams. How can I keep my money and computer safe?Answer: Online shopping is a great way to get through these post-recession holidays with your pocketbook and peace of mind intact. Items not on your shopping list stay out of sight and out of mind. Another plus? No long lines, parking jams or bad roads. Before you shop and click, protect your computer by following this checklist:

  • Install and update antivirus, anti-malware and firewall software. Update your computer’s operating system and Internet browser with the latest security patches.
  • Shop on secure sites. They’ll have “https” in the address bar and a yellow padlock logo to the right of the Web browser address bar.
  • Create strong passwords for online retailers and personal email accounts that have numbers, upper- and lowercase letters and symbols.
  • Use different passwords for online retailers, personal email and bank accounts. If a hacker cracks one password, he won’t have access to others.
  • Read site reviews before making any purchases. Pricegrabber.com compares prices and users’ comments on retail websites. Google Product Search, slickdeals.net and dealnews.com monitor retailers, site performance and possible issues.
  • Use credit cards, not debit cards. Or use a “one-time” credit card number from payment processors such as PayPal. (Some banks offer “virtual” cards. Check with yours.)
  • Never link a bank account to an online pay service such as PayPal. Hackers could break into the PayPal account and drain money from the linked bank account.

There are countless ways for criminals to exploit your personal identifying information online. But these steps will help you shop more safely. Ondrej Krehel is chief information security officer at CyberScout. Krehel manages a comprehensive information security program and leads computer forensic investigations. He helps businesses and individuals safeguard their information.