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Internet shopping: play your cards right

Lynda Moyo questions how safe it is to shop online

Written by . Published on July 24th 2008.


Internet shopping: play your cards right

In this day and age, if you're not an internet explorer, you may as well be living in the Shire with Frodo and the rest. The possibilities online are endless: you can learn, work, chat, date, play, laugh and shop, all from the comfort of your own home or office. Or even with 3G, I-phone and the rest from just about anywhere, anytime.

“Someone who then clicks through and gives away the security code and everything else will be screwed. Generally speaking, they deserve it for being stupid”

Unfortunately where there's new technology and ways of cutting corners, there will always be a lurker, looking for loopholes. A massive 44% of small businesses in the UK have been a victim of cyber crime, including internet scams, identity fraud, phishing and data theft in the last year.

Earlier in 2008 Cheshire-based company Cotton Traders reportedly had 38,000 customers’ data stolen via their website. Five months on, Cotton Traders deny this figure, instead saying: “The figure of 38,000 from the BBC is widely inaccurate and we would like to reassure all our customers that their data is secure and that the Cotton Traders website meets all leading industry security standards.”

The company refused to answer any further questions about this incident. Perhaps because it has been dealt with or because Cotton Traders are not a small business so the fact that this has happened to them is embarrassing and worrying. Cotton Traders aren't the first either. Last year retail giant TK Maxx were attacked, with around 45 million credit card details being taken from transactions dating back to 2002.

Get Safe Online, is a joint government and industry initiative for the protection of businesses. Managing Director Tony Neate used to be heavily involved in the investigation of hi-tech crime, dealing with numerous computer-related offences including hacking, online child abuse, denial of service attacks, cyber stalking, email abuse and phishing.

Speaking about the case of Cotton Traders, Neate, said: “There are so many ways that a company can be affected. It could be applications, software, operating systems or a million different ways. Cotton Traders will have brought in penetration testers which are called white hats (pretend hackers) and black hats (hackers) to test the system. They've had an alarm call so they've done the right thing and brought in third parties to put precautions in place.”

66% of businesses store vital documents on their PCs and 69% also store their customer details, yet 32% consider themselves to be fully up-to-date with current PC/internet security issues. This makes not only business owners, but also their customers, vulnerable to the risks of online security.

Neate said: “These situations arise when a company suddenly finds a vulnerability. They fix it with a patch. Send an update, announce it, download it but the problem can occur when they don't do it quick enough. Updates can take days and a hacker could easily get in by that time.”

As online scams become increasingly more sophisticated, it appears that many small businesses and some bigger companies aren’t up to speed with security at all, making it difficult for customers to protect themselves. However there are things you can do. Confidential’s resident tech-head, Tristan Welch breaks down the most common problems with shopping online:

The good
“Most hacking is actually done by guessing people's passwords rather than any massive technical knowledge. So long as you know the brand, it's definitely the site you think it is, you see https on any payment pages and use some sort of protected payment, you're fine. Paypal insure against none delivery and fraud, Barclaycard too. It's things like that which you should look out for.”

The bad
“Shopping using wi-fi in cafes? Don't even think about it. It’s so easy for people to snoop on what you’re doing. You can generally trust sites with https in the url. Https stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer, so you get encryption which makes it harder for a hacker to snoop on what's going on.”

The plain stupid
“Hackers might have card details, addresses and even phone numbers, but they're not much use without the 3 digit security code on the back of the card. The main problem these days is phishing. That tends to catch people off-guard. Phishing is those emails from 'Barclays' for example asking you to update your info yet when you check the email address is something like somefreepage.obviouslybogus.com
/barclaysaccountupdate.html. Someone who then clicks through and gives away the security code will be screwed. Generally speaking, these folk generally deserve it for being stupid.”

Stupid is as stupid does, of course. Keep your wits about you and although you can't guarantee to avoid online intruders, you can make it more difficult for them, to the point where they will possibly give up and find an easier target. Remember if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Other than that, it's up to retailers to up their security and get in professionals to keep an eye out for potential attacks and prevent thousands if not millions more hacked off customers.

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DigJuly 24th 2008.

Those stupid phisers have sent me bank security questions for Halifax and Natwest. I don't use either of them. So I won't be giving them my account details until they get it right!Wrong banks indeed. How stupid are they?

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