Everyone looks forward to the festive season – a time to wind down and relax after the busy year. Unfortunately, cyber-crooks don’t go on holiday. For them Christmas heralds a holiday shopping and party season that will generate millions of dollars for them.

Lutz Blaeser, MD of Intact Security, says that to give holidaymakers peace of mind this December, and prevent them falling foul of cybercrime, German security vendor, G Data, has put together some security tips.

“Firstly, close security gaps,” he says. “Use updates to ensure that your operating system, software and apps are always fully up-to-date. This applies not only to PC users, but equally to smartphone and tablet users.”

He says powerful security solution should be part of everyone’s basic equipment. “This should include not only virus protection, but also a firewall and real-time protection against spam and online threats. To achieve this, the security software must use regular updates to stay fully up-to-date and reliably fend off current risks.”

Use secure passwords, says Blaeser. “Every user account on the Internet should be protected with a secure password. To do this, users should choose a random sequence of numbers, special characters and upper and lower case characters, and avoid terms that are also found in dictionaries. This will make it especially hard for attackers to hack the password.”

Next, he says all spam e-mail should be deleted without being read. Users should not open integrated links or file attachments under any circumstances. “Links to online banking sites, online shops or payment services should ideally be typed into the browser manually.”

Blaeser says not to ignore tablets and smartphones. “Mobile devices, as well as PCs, must be protected with security software, so cyber criminals no longer have any opportunity to smuggle malware on to your smartphone or tablet PC. Additionally, the security app should offer protection against the dire consequences of having the device stolen. It should also be capable of using passwords to protect important apps and be able to block unwanted callers and messages.”

Social networks are another area where users need to be alert. “Social networks are extremely popular for exchanging news or finding new and old friends – and not just at Christmas time. No-one using Facebook and so on should reveal too much personal information about themselves. Users should refrain from making their postal or email address publicly visible on their profile. Criminals can exploit this information for attacks and break-ins.”

“Examine online shops before purchasing and take note of their reputation. This includes reading the general terms and conditions, the legal notice, and checking shipping and any additional costs,” he says. Users can also do research on whether the respective online shop or vendor is a known “black sheep”.

Blaeser advises to also be on the look-out for dangerous greetings cards. “Sending Christmas greetings to friends and acquaintances by e-greeting card or e-mail is becoming ever more popular. Criminals are aware of this as well and send their own fake Christmas cards with dangerous file attachments. Digital greetings cards and Christmas greetings via email from people you don’t know should therefore be deleted without being read, and file attachments should not be opened under any circumstances.”

“Short links too, should be viewed with caution,” Blaeser adds. “Short URLs are becoming increasingly popular. These days, they are not just commonplace on Twitter – more and more frequently, messages containing greatly shortened links are being posted on Facebook and other social networks as well. It is not uncommon for these to lead directly to malware traps. Thus, users should be wary if they receive messages containing short URLs.”

He also advises to use secure apps for mobile devices. “Smartphone and tablet users should only get apps from trustworthy sources, e.g. from Google Play for Android devices or from device manufacturers’ Websites. When selecting the app they want, users should watch out for any permissions these include and only install apps that actually need them. So, if an app asks for permission to access your contacts, for example, but doesn’t need that access in order to perform its function, this could be a warning sign.”

Another trick, he says, is regularly cleaning the hard disk. “Users should regularly clean up their programme directory and uninstall out-of-date and unused programmes as they do so. If a provider is no longer giving support for your software, it can no longer be updated either. This makes it easy for online criminals to exploit unclosed security gaps and attack users.”

“Look out for spelling mistakes,” he adds. “When entering a Web address in the browser address line, users should take care not to make spelling mistakes. For example, if a German user enters “facbook.de” instead of “facebook.de”, they are taken to an infected Website and unintentionally infect their own computer with malware.”

When using online banking services, users should make sure that you use a two-way authentication procedure that is as safe as possible, says Blaeser.

While on holiday too, Blaeser says users should be mindful of IT security. “They should not only be sure to use an effective security solution, but also avoid using the public WLAN networks often provided in hotels, Internet cafés or airports. These are often inadequately secured, meaning that criminals can spy on data traffic.”