Secure IT: Shop Safe Online

Stephen Nardone
Stephen Nardone

Everything we do on a daily basis has some form of “trust” baked into it. Where you live, what kind of car you drive, where you send your children to school, who you consider good friends, what businesses you purchase from, etc. Trust instills a level of confidence that your risk is minimized and acceptable to you. Why should this philosophy be any different when the entity you need to trust is on the other end of an Internet address? In fact, because you are connecting to an entity that you cannot see or validate, a higher level of scrutiny is required before they earn your trust. What Universal Resource Locator (URL) are you really connecting to? Is it really your banking website or new online shopping website that you are trying for the first time? How can you tell?

It’s a jungle out there. So we’ve put together five ways you can stay safe while you shop online:

  1. Shop at sites you trust. Are you looking at a nationally or globally recognized brand? Do you have detailed insight into what the site looks like? Have you established an account on this site, and is there a history that you can track for when you visit and what you buy? Have you linked the valid URL for the site in your browser? Mistyping a URL in your browser for any site you routinely visit can lead you to a rogue website.

  2. Use secure networks to connect. Just as important as paying attention to what you connect to is to be wary of where you connect from. Your home Wi-Fi network that you trust—okay. An open Wi-Fi at an airport, cyber café, or public kiosk—not okay. If you can’t trust the network, do not enter identifying information or your payment card information. Just ask our cybersecurity services experts to demonstrate how easy it is to compromise an open Wi-Fi network, and you’ll see why we recommend against public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions.

  3. Perform basic checks in your browser. Today’s modern browsers are much better at encrypted and secure connections than they were a few years ago. They use encrypted communication by leveraging a specific Internet protocol, hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS). This means that there is a certificate associated with this site in your browser that is verified before you are allowed to connect and establish the encrypted channel. (Just so you know, yes, these certificates can be spoofed, but that is a problem for another day). How do you check for this certificate?

    Look up in your browser title bar.

  4. It will display the URL you are connecting to.

    Hover over and click on the lock icon

    Note that the information says the certificate is valid. But let’s verify that. Hover over and click on the certificate icon.

    Certificate is issued to Amazon from a valid Certificate Authority and is valid until 12/15/2019. Excellent.

  5. Create strong password for your shopping sites. This issue is covered in another blog post, but use longer passwords, 10–12 characters, and keep them in a safe place that cannot be compromised by an unauthorized person. If a second factor is offered, use it. Many sites will send you a code to your smartphone to type into a login screen to verify you are who you say you are.

  6. Don’t give out information about yourself that seems unreasonable. If you are being asked for your social security number, think long and hard, and then longer and harder, about why that information should be required. And then don’t do it until you ask a trusted source about why that would be necessary. Be wary of anything you see when you are on a website that does not look familiar or normal.

We all use the Internet to shop. It is super convenient, and the return on investment is awesome. Having that new cool thing purchased in 10 minutes and delivered directly to your door—wow! Can you ever really be 100% sure that the Internet site you are visiting is legitimate, and that you are not going to inadvertently give away sensitive and/or financial information that is actually going directly into a hacker’s data collection file? Unfortunately, no. A lot of today’s scammers are very sophisticated. But as we discussed up front, this is a trust- and risk-based decision, and if you are aware that you could be compromised at any time on the Internet and are keeping your eyes open for things that just don’t look right or familiar, you have a higher probability of a safe online shopping experience.

To recap:

  • Visit and use sites you know and trust
  • Keep the correct URLs in your bookmarks (don’t risk mistyping a URL).
  • Check the certificate to ensure your connection to the site is secured by a legitimate and active certificate.
  • Look for anything that is not familiar to your known experience with the site.
  • If you can, do not save credit card or payment card information on the site. (If you do, you need to be aware that if that site is breached, your payment data is compromised.)
  • Use strong passwords for your shopping site accounts. And use a different password for every site. (No one ring to rule them all!)
  • If a site offers a second factor to authenticate you, use it.
  • Check all your payment card statements regularly to look for rogue purchases.
  • Subscribe to an identity theft protection service if you can. These services will alert you if your identity has been compromised.

Safe shopping!

Stephen Nardone

Stephen Nardone, CISSP, is Director of Security Practice at Connection with over 38 years of experience in both the government side and the commercial side of the security business.

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