’Tis the season to stay safe online

Johann van Rooyen
As we approach the “most wonderful time of the year”, we start thinking about buying presents online. This is also the time that criminals target online shoppers, using ever more sophisticated methods. These fraudsters can cause huge financial problems and comprise IT systems and devices and ruin Christmas.
Each time we access the internet on one of our devices to shop for that perfect present for our loved ones, we are targeted by hackers through viruses and malware, for example. Our often-weak cyber security makes us and our personal information and data vulnerable and accessible to criminal elements. We may think we are shopping online on a secure website, but phishing attacks and “replica” websites that look and feel like the real deal engage the user, ask for personal data, and credit card details, leaving the online shopper very exposed.
Of course, there are also more sophisticated forms of cybercrime with identity theft being a favourite and ransomware becoming more professional. Ransomware is where criminals gain access to your computer and lock you out unless you pay a ransom. It has reached a point where it is essential that both organisations, as well as private citizens, need to be constantly vigilant when online.
Forewarned is forearmed
There are ways to make sure you can buy presents from the comfort of your own home or wherever you are on your web-enabled device if you just heed a few rules, along with having a robust virus scanner and making sure all the updates on your computer are installed. The simplest and perhaps most obvious is that if an offer seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
There are a few others as well though.
• Make sure you buy from trusted sellers and webshops
• Make sure there is a little padlock in the bottom corner of the website, denoting that it is secure
• Do not save any banking information on a website, however convenient it may seem
• Do not shop while using a public Wi-Fi network, unless using a proper Virtual Private Network (VPN)
• Always use strong passwords and IDs when choosing a password for a website. A combination of letters, numbers, and symbols is usually the best. This makes hacking into your accounts much harder.
• Use your gut instinct, if something feels off on the website, then don’t engage further and log off the website.
These may all seem like overly paranoid actions to undertake while simply shopping for a new toy or gadget, but criminals are becoming more sophisticated. Cybercrime is one of the biggest growth markets and anyone can fall victim to it.
In Namibia, we lack training, and knowledge when it comes to basic IT security processes; that’s why focusing on being safe online, especially during the holiday season, is important. The holiday season is easily ruined if your account is defrauded, or your credit card is maxed out by criminals, or the presents you think you ordered online never arrive.
Therefore, this holiday season, be vigilant and stay safe in cyberspace whilst doing the shopping online Christmas shopping.
*Johann van Rooyen is a Senior Technical Advisor at Green Enterprise Solutions (Pty) Ltd.
**Opinion pieces and letters by the public do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial team. The editors reserve the right to abridge original texts. All newspapers of Namibia Media Holdings adhere to the Code of Ethics for Namibian Media, a code established jointly with the Media Ombudsman.