TSTC Cybersecurity holiday scams

Cybersecurity can be at risk if users are not aware of possible threats

(ROSENBERG, Texas) – If you have an unbelievable Cyber Monday deal in your email inbox, do a little research before committing to the purchase.

“If it feels too good to be true, it probably is,” warned Texas State Technical College Cybersecurity instructor Alan Sulak.

While Black Friday traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season, more and more retailers have extended their sales online. Shoppers need to remain vigilant to keep their information secure — and avoid getting hacked or scammed.

Sulak urges people to take note of where emails originate. A legitimate offer from a retailer would not typically come from an AOL or a Yahoo email address, for example.

It is never a good idea to click a link in an email sent by someone you do not know.

If you question whether a deal might be real, visit the retailer’s website and look for it there. Treat any discrepancies as red flags. The vast majority of websites should be secured — often represented by a closed lock icon or “https” at the beginning of a web address.

Even when you are out and about shopping for gifts in person, stay mindful about what you are doing online. Comparing in-store prices on an item to deals on other websites is one thing, but be wary of completing transactions.

“Never use free Wi-Fi in public places when shopping online,” Sulak said. “People do not realize, but it is very easy for somebody at a public Wi-Fi to record your entire transaction, learn everything about it and get your credit card info.”

If you must make a purchase online while connected to public Wi-Fi, Sulak recommends using a VPN — a virtual private network — to protect your privacy.

It may still be better to wait until you are at home to pay for everything in your online shopping cart due to possible vulnerability to a “man-in-the-middle” attack while using public Wi-Fi.

“As soon as you connect to a free Wi-Fi, you think you’re connected to the business where you’re at,” Sulak said. “In reality, (sometimes hackers have) completely masqueraded as that company, and you’re connecting through their laptop — they’ve got you at that point.”

Sulak and many other TSTC Cybersecurity instructors are a part of InfraGard, a nonprofit partnership among U.S. industry entities and the FBI. The goal of the organization is to keep everyone involved informed of cyberthreats — and threats to physical security — and how to protect against them. TSTC Cybersecurity students are also encouraged to participate.

Staying informed about online risks before they occur — during the holidays and all year round — is one of the best ways to keep your online information safe.

“You just really don’t know who could be lurking around the corner,” Sulak said.

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Cybersecurity, as well as a Digital Forensics Specialist advanced technical certificate and a Basic Cybersecurity occupational skills award, all online.

Registration for the spring semester is underway. For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

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