‘Tis the Season: Why Cyberattackers Set their Sights on the Holidays

by VPNHaus | 12/02/2015

The holiday shopping season is back again and now in full gear. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday kicking off the annual frenzy, shoppers are already rummaging through department stores or scouring online marketplaces like Amazon to find that perfect gift – and ideally, at the perfect price too. The ecommerce side of the season is expected to be especially successful this year, with online sales predicted to jump 14 percent over the last holiday season, accounting for over $70 billion and approximately 9 percent of all U.S. retail sales.

It’s great news for shoppers, great news for businesses and, unfortunately, great news for hackers too.

The busy season makes December a more opportune time for cyberattackers to strike than the rest of the year. Remember Target’s data breach? Over 70 million customer records were compromised, including 30 to 40 million credit and debit cards, all at the peak of the 2013 holiday shopping season – ensuring there were plenty of potential victims and transactions for hackers to leech off of. Much like tax season, the holiday shopping season involves so much exchanging of personal and financial information while buying products and attempting to land deals that this time of year becomes a gold mine for cyberattackers.

But it’s not just the shopping side of things that makes people vulnerable to cyberattacks; it’s all the vacation time too. Because as much as the holidays should mean taking some time off from work, not all of us can disconnect from it completely – especially with the option to view work emails on our phone, anywhere and at any time. But while you might think you’re getting a jump on the email that piles up over the holidays when you’re on the train home or on a flight to your vacation spot, you might actually be making yourself more vulnerable to attack.

Malicious emails with suspicious writing styles – such as different formatting, text in different font colors and so on – may be more obvious on your laptop, but when viewed through your phone’s email app, all of that formatting looks uniform and makes malware-tinged URLs potentially less conspicuous. The more cyberthieves can get you to lower your guard, the easier it is to reel in victims with targeted email attacks like spear-phishing.

Or maybe the issue isn’t on your end, but on your company’s help desk. If your organization’s IT personnel are mostly out of the office for the holidays, your company’s response to a cyberattack could be much slower and less able to proactively minimize threat impacts.

If you’re out on the road for the holidays this season and do need to work, make sure you’re only using a secure remote access VPN to do so. The last thing you want to ruin your festivities is using an unsecured network connection that potentially invites hackers and cyberattacks to strike when you least suspect it.

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