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ODU Researchers: Cyber Security Vigilance Reduces Online Shopping Vulnerability

By Noell Saunders

While millions scour the internet in coming weeks for the best holiday deals, criminal hackers will have their own shopping sprees.

Since the 1990s, traditional crime statistics have dropped but electronic crime continues to soar with the advent of online shopping, and special events like Cyber Monday, that have significantly increased the threat for consumers.

"Many years ago people would only worry about crimes in their neighborhood and now those crimes could originate across the globe," said Brian Payne, Old Dominion's vice provost for academic affairs.

Payne, also a nationally-known criminology expert, says staying ahead of the bad guys is no easy task as they are always searching for ways to target victims through fake emails, websites and social media platforms.

"Crime hasn't changed, the weapon has changed," Payne said.

Hongyi Wu, director of Old Dominion University's Center for Cyber Security Education and Research, said a single click on a malicious website can expose consumers to having personal information, including bank account details, stolen.

Wu offered these tips for secure electronic shopping:

  • Ensure you have the latest version of your browser app;
  • Use only reputable websites when making online purchases with a debit or credit card;
  • Never save usernames, passwords or PINS on your computer or cellphone; and
  • Make sure your smart phone and computer has the latest software and app updates.

"Hackers can send out one million emails with no cost at all and if there's a one percent response, that's a lot for them," Wu said.

There's no way to stay completely safe from cyber crime but increasing awareness can help.

"We need to understand the risk by making sure we surf secure websites and use different usernames and passwords when having multiple accounts," Wu said. "Beware of e-mails from unknown sources that prompt the reader to download apps. Those apps may carry malicious codes that can steal information from your phone or computer."

Wu also advises consumers to always use a secure network for purchases and never send sensitive information through a public Wi-Fi portal.

"The data you are accessing is supposed to be encrypted for safe use," he said. "A hacker can use a device called a sniffer to capture that data and break the encryption."

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