Before you know it, the holidays will be here, and with them the busy shopping season. While millions will no doubt crowd shopping malls and retail outlets, lots of people will also be heading online for their holiday purchases, many doing so via mobile devices. In anticipation of the expected rush, there is also renewed concern over the safety of online shopping, especially with so many people opting to use a smartphone or tablet for the task. According to the PEW Research Internet Project, 58% of adults own a smartphone, while 42% own a tablet, which could make for record numbers of online shoppers this year and a possible increase in security risks. Before the shopping season hits, it’s important to look at just how secure shopping on mobile devices is and what users can do to protect themselves to make it safer to shop on a smartphone.
1. Avoid Public WiFi
When you’re out and about, it’s tempting to connect to the nearest free public network, usually a fast food restaurant or Starbucks. Connecting to those networks with a device that houses much of your personal information, however, would be unwise. Hackers like to prey on free networks, fooling people into connecting to fake access points. Shoppers should avoid these free public WiFi hotspots. Instead, go with options that provide better network security, like cellular networks. You should also make sure your smartphone doesn’t automatically connect to the nearest network. The option can be turned off in the “Settings” menu on most phones.
2. Shop on Secure Sites
This tip is useful whether you're online shopping is done on a desktop or a mobile device. Make sure when visiting an online shopping site that it has been secured. You can tell when looking at the address bar in your web browser. If the site has an “https” address, that means it is SSL encrypted. Most browsers also display a graphic of a padlock next to the address to indicate added security. Any shopping site that doesn’t have this protection should be looked at with suspicion and avoided. When using apps on your smartphone, make sure the apps come from sites you already know have security features.
3. Update Your Device
It might be a bit annoying to constantly receive update notifications for your phone, but don’t ignore them. Those updates usually contain the latest security features that can protect the device from new risks. Hackers are always coming up with new ways to infect devices and steal valuable information, so mobile companies need to help their customers by offering new security updates. Mobile devices should also have antivirus protection, a feature that doesn’t come standard on most smartphones and tablets.
4. Ignore Retail Emails
You’ll likely be inundated with email after email from retail companies showing off their latest sales and offers. While it might be a good way to check out prices, security experts say you shouldn’t look at retail emails on your smartphones. Many con artists like to try to mimic the look and content of a legitimate email, fooling people into clicking on links that send them to suspicious websites where malware is unwittingly downloaded. It’s easier to be fooled when looking at the email through a small screen, which is why you should wait until you are in front of a desktop computer or laptop before reading those emails. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are a sure sign the email is fake. As an extra precaution, never click on links inside an email; simply copy and paste them in your URL to see if the link is taking you to a legitimate site.
5. Create Strong Passwords
A shocking number of people who own smartphones (60%) don’t lock their phones or secure them with a password or security pin. Needless to say, a password is a good way to keep hackers from accessing information, but it has to be strong. Passwords of eight or more characters are a good place to start, but they should also include capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Use a different password for every account you have on your smartphone, and make sure to change them up regularly. This prevents cybercriminals from gaining hold of your information, and offers some of the easiest protection your mobile device can have.