As the festive season nears, cybercriminals start to prey on our online security vulnerabilities. In this digital era, we rely heavily on efficiencies that make our lives easier.

By Corien Vermaak, cyber security specialist at Cisco

According to Deloitte’s annual retail holiday sales forecast, online sales are expected to rise by 22%. This increase in online shopping presents a grand opportunity for cybercriminals.

Criminals send phishing emails that seem believable by copying retailers’ Christmas sale or online discounts and including a link to a malicious website. As with most sites, it will prompt you to enter your information and login details. You should look out for strange email addresses, spelling and grammar errors, or deals that look to good to be true.

The cybercriminals use the chaos of the season to get information and steal data. The best advice here is to take caution before you click on emails. It is always advisable to ensure that the URL starts with “https”. The S will help you identify that the online shop uses secure protocols.

Cybercriminals also pray on our altruism during this festive season. Many online campaigns use emotional triggers to get you to part with money or information. In this case, it is very tricky. Be sure to verify all charity organisations before donating to any cause.

Emotional trigger points will always play on human empathy and may create a sense of urgency. Sadly, I have to warn people about empathy as a social vulnerability. Do not become part of the crime statistic over the festive season.

Top five tips to protect yourself against cybercrime:

* Update your software – Software patching helps mitigate vulnerabilities, and most devices can do this automatically.

* Anti-virus protection is still critical – Anti-virus (AV) protection software blocks malware and other malicious viruses from entering your device.

* Use smart strong passwords – Create a user-friendly mixture of letters, symbols, and numbers – at least eight characters in length. Choose something that you will remember.

* Email phishing scams is a dirty business – In a phishing scam, the attacker poses as someone to trick you into divulging credentials, clicking a malicious link, or opening an attachment that infects your device with malware.

* Protect your personal information – It is recommended that you only reveal very little about yourself on social media and consider reviewing your privacy settings across all your social media accounts.

* Backup, backup, backup regularly – If you become a victim of ransomware, the only way to restore your data is to erase your computer and restore a recent backup.