Cybergangs to Target Online Shoppers This Holiday Season

Brendan Ziolo, vice president of security firm Kindsight, recently told USA Today that cybergangs are expected to beef up their criminal efforts during the holiday season by unleashing a variety of old and new Internet-based scams. It's prime time for cybercriminals, he said, as they look to steal identities and hijack online accounts.

According to numbers provided by PriceGrabber, around 41-percent of consumers plan to purchase items online through their PCs, tablets and smartphones, a slight increase over last year's 37-percent. While that's good news for well-established online merchants, that doesn't bode well for local businesses that rely on personal in-store transactions.

In addition to cutting out the local retailer, shopping online poses some risk to those who remain unprotected, especially those consumers running outdated web browsers on their desktop or laptop. Without the proper security patches, customers leave themselves wide open for hackers to walk right in and steal their information, take control of their personal accounts, and to spread their malware on a global scale.

Wolfgang Kandek, chief technical officer at patch management firm Qualys, told USA Today that the firm recently analyzed more than 1 million Windows PCs and Macs connected to the Internet. 56-percent of the Internet Explorer users surfed the internet with an outdated browser carrying widely known security flaws. Even more, 49.2-percent of the Firefox users, 47.5-percent of the Chrome users and 37.4-percent of the Safari users shopped and surfed online with outdated versions.

To make matters worse, the number of infected web domains in North America alone is increasing by the month. In August, security firm Avast identified 46,000 American Web domains with at least one infected Web page. That number jumped up to 50,000 in September and then up to 52,000 in October, spanning not only sketchy websites and porn-related domains, but legitimate websites as well.

The report states that cybergangs are steering web surfers to these sites by using lures in social networking services like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. They have also become experts at using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics so that their malware-tainted web sites are at the top of search results. They're also targeting the mobile sector, knowing users store personal information on their mostly unprotected smartphones and tablets.

Security firm ThreatMetrix reports that out of 40 million mobile devices analyzed, the number of online transactions conducted on an iPhone have increased 11-percent in November so far compared to November 2011's numbers. Windows-based smartphone transactions are up 53-percent and Android up 7-percent. Consumers using the latter platform are warned to be wary of free apps and unsolicited text messages that could take the user to a malicious website.

With all that said, consumers are encouraged to not use a debit card for online purchases, as these cards provide direct access to the issuing bank account. Consumers are also suggested to use strong passwords, to shop on "reputable" websites, and to "think before you click," because a deal that seems too good to be true probably is, and used to lure unsuspecting deal hunters.

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  • A Bad Day
    to shop on "reputable" websites

    My school's website was hacked a few weeks ago and injected with java exploits. How do I know the same won't happen to the "reputable" websites?
  • skaz
    @ A Bad Day

    Firefox + NoScript
  • A Bad Day
    skaz@ A Bad DayFirefox + NoScript

    5 scrips no longer work, thus breaking the webpage. Please manually re-enable each one of them, and there's no guarantee that they will be non-exploit versions.