Cybersecurity Advent calendar: Stay close to one another… Safely!

This year, many of us will be celebrating Christmas with our loved ones virtually, however we shouldn’t underestimate the value of securing our online communication

Editor’s note: contributed blogs like this are part of ChannelBuzz.ca’s annual sponsorship program. Find out more here. This article was written by Amer Owaida, security writer at ESET and was originally posted on the We Live Security site.)

In the run-up to Christmas, many of us are probably already making plans on how to spend it with loved ones, such as planning various get-togethers with colleagues, friends and significant others before we each head out to our families’ homes. However, in a lot of places traditional Christmas plans have had to be put on hold due to the pandemic raging and, in an effort to be responsible, all of us will have to find other ways to celebrate and socialize together.

Although we are fortunate enough to have technology that helps us connect in these trying times, online communication platforms, be it social media, video calls, or online dating applications, it’s important to remember that these still carry risks if not used properly. So, here are some quick tips to stay close and safe online while connecting with other people.

Whether you are in a work meeting or sharing good times with your loved ones through video, secure your access to Zoom or videoconferencing platforms.

One of the main ways we can stay connected with our friends and family to celebrate Christmas during these trying times – while keeping our distance – is by using the various online video communication platforms such as Zoom. Since the beginning of the pandemic, these platforms have enjoyed a surge in popularity and hence have also become a target of cybercriminals. To remain safe during your online calls, be sure to audit your Zoom security settings when setting up your Zoom meeting, or you can refer to our tips for secure videoconferencing in general.

Think twice before sharing any personal info on social media. Or anything, really. Think audience, content, impact.

While keeping up with your family and friends from a distance is easier in the digital age, it also carries a certain amount of risk; you have to be mindful of what you’re sharing and with whom. When is the last time you’ve audited your list of friends on Facebook; do you really know all of them? Maybe you want to upload a photo Christmas greeting with your kid, but have you considered all the information a photo can hold? The details in the photo or the metadata could reveal the location where it was taken. This, and other risks such as those discussed here, are all things you should consider carefully.

Your friend created a new social media account? Double-check that this is not a doppelgänger.

Cloning social media accounts is a common tactic used by scammers to defraud people. The premise is that the cybercriminal will basically copy their target’s whole profile and start contacting the target’s friend list. The doppelgänger will claim that cybercriminals have compromised their social media account and even gained access to their bank accounts and cleaned them out and will ask for money. So if you see any claims that a friend has a whole new account that is a copy of their regular one, check in with them through another channel to see if it’s not a cloning attack.

Only download apps – whether to play, get in touch with others, or anything in between – from an official app store, and regularly update your apps.

If you’re planning to download any new apps to your device, be it messaging platforms or games to pass the time, the best thing you could do is to download them from your platform’s official app store. While alternative or unofficial stores may offer applications for less or sometimes for free, you might be opening yourself to possible avenues of attack, since apps on such stores aren’t curated nor do they pass rigorous approval processes. This could lead you to download malicious apps that could do a world of harm.

If you are dating online, beware of romance scams.

While online dating was popular before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has made it one of the few options still available for meeting people while social distancing, but it does carry its own set of risks. If you meet someone on a dating platform, there are a number of things you should keep an eye out for. If your potential new flame tries to move the conversation out of the confines of the app to another messaging platform, or they are quick to profess their love – or even start asking for money –  you should immediately start being suspicious lest they break your heart and your bank account.

Online gaming scams are prevalent too. If the offer seems wrong or too good to be true, double-check.

Online gaming is a good way to pass the time while in quarantine while remaining in touch with your friends. However, this favorite pastime is also a favored target for fraudsters, who use various scams to trick avid gamers. For example, if you’d like to get an in-game item quickly but you don’t have the patience to grind for it, some games offer in-game purchases as a shortcut, but it may cost more than you’re willing to pay. So, scammers often try to trick gamers by offering “amazing deals”, which will leave you both without money and without the item you wanted to purchase. Therefore, if you want to buy something, stick with the game’s official store.

Look out for cyberbullying, whether it affects you as a victim or a bystander (and it goes without saying. But don’t be a bully!).

Although most people associate cyberbullying with kids, adults can be victims too. If you are ever a victim or a witness of such an incident, you should never remain silent. Speak up! Luckily, online platforms are aware that cyberbullying is a perennial problem and have adopted tools that allow users to report any such behavior. So, the next time that you see anything like that happen, you can use the tools provided by social media and other platforms and report abusers so that they may get punished for their behavior. Finally, while emotions tend to run high during the holidays, remember that –bullying is never acceptable. If you would not feel comfortable reading your comment at loud in a public space, better not publish it at all. We all have to work together so that online conversations remain open, civil and respectful.

The key takeaway from this week’s tips are that while you’re trying to be responsible and you’re social distancing while trying to keep your Christmas traditions intact, you should be responsible and vigilant online as well. Cybercriminals are all too aware that a lot of people will try to transition celebrations online and these crooks will not shy away from targeting various potential victims if there’s a chance they can make a pretty penny.

Stay tuned for next week’s advice, on how to adopt better cybersecurity habits you can utilize throughout 2021.

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