The 2014 holiday shopping season officially began on Black Friday, and it marks the one year anniversary of Target Corp’s massive data breach that affected millions of American shoppers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is advising Americans to give their family the best gift of all this holiday season — the “gift” of online security.
In the year since Target’s massive data breach, which leaked 110 million customers personal information from emails to credit card numbers, Target and other retailers have taken steps to “beef up” credit card security, well sort of. U.S. banks and credit card companies have begun sending customers new, chip-enabled cards that produce a new card number every time it’s swiped, making card numbers harder to duplicate. Target Corp. is among the retailers that announced plans to roll out chip-enabled Mastercard and Visa (EMV) store cards this year. The problem is, most stores and restaurants don’t have the technology to accept the new cards — including Target.
Next Monday, known as “Cyber Monday” is the largest online shopping day of the year, and cyber criminals and hackers are ready to scam the unsuspecting public. The average American shopper spends $770 dollars during the holiday season, and that number is expected to increase 4 percent this year, putting customers at an even greater risk. So, what exactly has been done to protect American consumers from hackers?
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently formed an alliance with some large retailers, including Safeway, Walgreens, and Nike that allows the sharing of real-time threat information through a central intelligence-gathering system. The alliance touted by the U.S. government is new, and therefore in its infancy stage. It remains to be seen what effect the public-private partnership will have on cyber crime, especially since in the last year, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. Weather System, Postal Service, and the White House were all hit by hackers.
The infamous Heartbleed bug, which went undetected for years exposed more than two-thirds of the world’s Internet websites, left customer’s usernames, passwords, Social Security Numbers and financial account information vulnerable to hackers. In April, a private security report revealed the National Security Agency knew for at least two years about the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence. The NSA said the agency kept the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests.
American consumers will need to take matters into their own hands, computer security experts say. Cyber security experts say beware of “phishing”scams, and never click links via email to make purchases. Instead, go directly to the websites via your bookmarks, verify the offer and then log in. Additionally, create strong passwords using at least 10 characters containing capital and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers. Each extra digit you add makes it that much harder for criminals to hack it. Never use personal information, like pet or kids’ names, in passwords.
For more cyber security tips, consumers can visit the National Cyber Security Alliance or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.