7 Days of Christmas 2023 Cyber Tips

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You can’t have failed to notice… it’s Christmas.

Christmas Cyber 2023: 7 ‘gifts’ from SWCRC

Well, almost: you’re probably in the throes of preparing for it, and when we were recently invited to deliver a quick cyber briefing, we thought we’d try to theme it around staying safe. Simple things, which you might or might not know – unless you’re one of our members, in which case, you probably know them all. But this is a season for sharing, so we thought we’d put those tips down in writing for you too.

Christmas Cyber Tip 1: Oh good, a QR code!

So you’ve circled town three times, and you’ve found that last parking space. You don’t have £7.40 in coins, so you pull out your mobile device to make payment. And there’s an inviting QR code to scan and input details. Simple, frictionless, and functional. Or is it? You wouldn’t head to an unknown website and provide credit card details normally. Just be aware that’s exactly what a QR code is – a web link. And scammers have been known to stick them on payment machines. Think about using the app, or calling the specified phone number instead. It’s just a little safer.

Christmas Cyber Tip 2: Oh wonderful, free wifi!

You get to the shops, and you’ve found the perfect electronic gadget for gifting. Time for a quick price check, to see if you can get it cheaper online. So you adjourn to the café and link up to their free Wi-Fi. Bingo! Five quid cheaper, and with free delivery. Your card comes out again. The question is, are you sure that the Wi-Fi network was secure? It’s simple to set up a hotspot… you’ll know if you’ve done it yourself for mobile working. What if I call my hotspot “free café wifi”? Would you know? There are some risks with sending secure details over shared networks, and it’s simple to hide the content of your traffic using what’s called a ‘virtual private network’. You’ll find lots of reputable providers with a bit of research, or if you can manage it, you can simply use your own network coverage. It’ll use data, but it’s a bit safer again.

Christmas Cyber Tip 3: Google adverts are so helpful

In-person shopping completed, you get back home and finish things off online. There are a few things to look out for here. Firstly, you need to be aware that scammers also try to get their sites to the top of your listings. A google advert is no guarantee of legitimacy, and there have been cases where they’re used to direct people to malicious sites. By all means take a look at the site, but do some cross-checking before you provide payment. It’s been known for spoof sites to be created with addresses that look identical to the real thing, but which on closer inspection have a character or two changed. So if in doubt, the main site might be lower-risk than the advert.

Christmas Cyber Tip 4: Let’s save time at the till

As you reach the virtual checkout, you’re invited to create an account, to save you inputting your details next time. Just think about this. If it’s a site you’ll be coming back to, then it might be worthwhile: but if not, do they really need to store all of your personal details? Letting them do so, increases the risk to you, if they’re breached in the future. They might even be asking for you to save a credit card with them for future use. Same question. If you do decide to entrust a company with all of your personal and payment information, maybe check whether they’ll provide something called two-factor authentication on your account. This essentially provides a second lock on your digital details, and you can generally add it if available through your account settings.

Christmas Cyber Tip 5: Let’s get those parcels delivered

And two days later, the presents start to arrive. Except that you’ve had a message about one that couldn’t be delivered, because it was underpaid on the postage, and you just need to pay the additional two pounds before the courier will come. We’re guessing that you’ve heard about these delivery scams by now – just be aware of them, because it’s easy to make assumptions when you’ve order twenty packages and lost track. But you might not know that you can also help other people, if you’ve spotted that the message in question wasn’t legitimate. Forward the message to 7726 – which spells ‘spam’ on your alphanumeric keys – and the phone companies will look at it and try to prevent further messages from that sender. So you keep us all safer.

Here at the South West Cyber Resilience Centre, we don’t think that cyber has to be complicated. None of this is deeply technical. It’s just about being aware. You know that turkeys need to be defrosted properly, and you know that Santa can also get into places without chimneys. But you might not know about the latest cyber traps. And that’s why we’re here: to keep you on top of things, free of charge. If you run a business or charity in our region, you can sign up for free support, without a catch. Find out more, and join our community, at Happy Christmas.