IT Trenches

Dec 2 2009   9:33PM GMT

10 Tips: Holiday greeting cards, holiday shopping and computer security awareness

Troy Tate Profile: Troy Tate

It is that time of year again when folks send electronic holiday greeting cards to one another. Some of the greetings may also be games that bear holiday messages. It is also a time when malicious software spreads using these same types of messages and software. You should also be cautious when doing any holiday shopping online or at stores. It is important that you and those you communicate with understand these risks. Your finances and identity are always at risk in today’s technology environment, but you may be less attentive during the holiday season. The following 10 tips are meant to remind you of some important security precautions.

1. Do NOT use your company email address for personal holiday greetings or shopping activities. Merchants may sell your email address to other non-reputable sources and this puts your company identity at risk.

2. If you receive personal holiday greetings or “cute” games at your company email address, ask the sender to not send those to you at work. Use a personal email account for those communications.

3. If you do receive holiday greetings or games at your personal email address, check with the sender before opening to be sure they sent the message. Spammers and malicious software writers can easily deceive you through social engineering. They will do everything possible to get you to open their message and potentially damage your computer and/or harvest your email address as a valid address.

4. Don’t trust everything you see online. Finding something on the internet does not guarantee that it is true. Anyone can publish information online, so before accepting a statement as fact or taking action, verify that the source is reliable.

5. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You have probably seen many emails promising fantastic rewards or monetary gifts. However, regardless of what the email claims, there are not any wealthy strangers desperate to send you money. Beware of grand promises—they are most likely spam, hoaxes, or phishing schemes. Also be wary of pop-up windows and advertisements for free downloadable software—they may be disguising spyware. In fact, many new threats appear to be trying to scare you into thinking your computer is infected and offering to clean your system. Do NOT pay attention to these schemes! The software they offer is embedded with malicious software which can and will steal data and personal information. Close the pop-up windows by clicking the X in the top right corner. Do not click the YES, NO, or CANCEL buttons in the window. It may cause unwanted computer issues if you do. Do not trust what you see in these pop-up windows. Contact IT support if you have any questions or issues.

6. Avoid phishing schemes. Banks and other institutions will not actively solicit personal information by email. When you click a link in an email asking for this type of information, your choice may risk your finances and personal identity. The link may take you to a website hosted by someone with malicious intentions. If you enter your personal information on the website, you have just had your identity taken by a social engineering attack and may have incurred a financial loss.

7. If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information provided on a web site connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information. Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group (

8. If you believe your financial accounts may be compromised, contact your financial institution immediately and close any accounts that may have been compromised. Watch for any unexplainable charges to your account. Consider reporting the attack to the police, and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (

9. Do not participate in forwarding chain letters or perpetuating hoaxes or urban legends. Hoaxes attempt to trick or defraud users. A hoax could be malicious, instructing users to delete a file necessary to the operating system by claiming it is a virus. It could also be a scam that convinces users to send money or personal information. Phishing attacks could fall into this category. Urban legends are designed to be redistributed and usually warn users of a threat or claim to be notifying them of important or urgent information. Another common form are the emails that promise users monetary rewards for forwarding the message or suggest that they are signing something that will be submitted to a particular group. Urban legends usually have no negative effect aside from wasted network bandwidth, server resources and time. If you want to check the validity of an email, there are some web sites that provide information about hoaxes and urban legends: Urban Legends and Folklore –;  Urban Legends Reference Pages –; Hoaxbusters –; –; Symantec Security Response Hoaxes –; McAfee Security Virus Hoaxes –

10. Protect yourself while shopping online. Use and maintain anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software. Keep software, particularly your web browser, up to date. Do business with reputable vendors. Take advantage of security features like secure passwords and encrypting information between your computer and the vendor’s website (look for the “lock” symbol in the browser or the website address beginning with “https” rather than “http”. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Check your statements for any unusual or unauthorized activity.

Hopefully these tips will help you and those around you to have a happy holiday and reduce the risk of an unwelcome holiday event due to being uninformed. Please feel free to share these tips with your friends and family to help increase awareness and reduce risky behavior.

Thanks for reading & let’s continue to be good network citizens!

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