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6 Tips To Stay Secure While Shopping Online

6 Tips To Stay Secure While Shopping Online

The holiday season is here, and that means consumers will be opening their wallets to gear up for parties, gift exchanges, and family gatherings— and an increasing amount of this spending is being done online. A survey conducted by UPS found that 2016 marked the first year where consumers reported making more purchases online than they did offline, at 51%; this is up from 48% in 2015 and 47% in 2014.

It’s easy to understand why so many of us have embraced online shopping: It’s easy, convenient, and far less stressful than cramming into a crowded mall or lining up outside a store at 3 a.m. in eight-degree weather. Unfortunately, online shopping has also opened up consumers to cyber crimes. While consumers scour online shopping sites for deals on gifts and Christmas decor, cybercriminals lurk behind the scenes, ready to harvest credit card information and personal data.

I spoke with Santosh Varughese, President and CEO of Cognetyx, about what consumers can do to stay safe from cybersecurity threats while shopping online. Here’s the insight he shared with me:

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1. Make Sure Your Devices Are Up To Date And Have Anti-Virus Protection

The first step to protecting yourself from cyber crimes is to ensure that all of your devices, whether a desktop, laptop or cellphone, are kept up to date. New cyber threats emerge daily, and OS and software updates often can address them. This includes updating your web browsers—something that’s easy to overlook.

No computer should be without anti-virus protection (not even Macs). Preferably, your anti-virus software should include additional cyber attack protection, such as firewalls and spam filtering.

2. Secure Your Home Network

Most people don’t change the default passwords their devices are shipped with. These default passwords are widely available online. Armed with this information, hackers are able to take control of peoples’ routers and other smart devices, often without their knowledge, that are then used to launch a massive cybersecurity attack.

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  • If you have not yet changed your router’s default password, do so immediately, as well as the default passwords for your smart TV and any other smart devices in your home. Hackers can use ‘unsecure these devices’ to break into your network and make their way to your computer.
  • Ensure that your wifi network is secured with WPA2 and requires a strong password for access. Change the default password your internet provider assigned you when your internet service was first connected.

3. Stick With Known Retailers And Double-Check URLs

Sticking with popular and reputable e-commerce sites, such as Amazon, Walmart, or eBay, is always a good practice. However, it is incredibly easy for hackers to set up a phoney version of a legitimate retailer’s website, so always check to make sure you are accessing the website you think you are:

  • When in doubt, use an online fake website detector.
  • Beware of buying from sites with domains that end in “.org”, “.tv”, and other extensions that are almost never used in e-commerce.
  • Look for a “green lock” indicator directly to the left of the URL. If this is missing, this means the site does not have a high level of security that has been guaranteed by a known entity such asVerisign or Symantec.
  • Make sure that the website’s address begins in “https,” which indicates that the website is secure and the information provided by you will be encrypted.
  • Double-check the site’s URL for minor variations in spelling.
  • Type in the URL by hand or use your browser bookmark; never follow links from social media posts, emails, or SMS messages.

4. Be Careful Using Mobile Shopping Apps

Mobile internet access is exploding, with mobile representing over 65% of all digital media time – and apps are being used more often than mobile websites. Mobile analytics company, App Annie, reported that consumers spent a whopping 80 million hours on mobile shopping apps in the week leading up to Black Friday this year. Shopping apps are convenient and often offer better functionality on a mobile device than a website. However, just as hackers can set up phoney websites, they can also build fake shopping apps, so follow these precautions:

  • Download shopping apps only from reputable sources, such as the Google Play Store or the Apple App store.
  • Before downloading an app, read the reviews and comments to see if anyone else noted something suspicious – or if the app has nothing but glowing reviews that sound like they were all written by the same person.
  • Don’t just click “I agree” without reading what permissions an app asks for. Read them carefully, and if you see something that bothers you or that doesn’t make sense, such as if the app wants to access your contacts, don’t allow it to do so – or discontinue the installation.

Additionally, you should always log out of online shopping (and banking) apps completely after you are done using them, and don’t let your mobile device store any of your passwords or payment information. Enable a passcode on your phone or tablet in case your device is stolen.

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5. Pay Safe

When shopping online, payment methods matter:

  • Never pay for an online purchase with a wire transfer; this is a favorite method of scammers.
  • Avoid paying with debit cards or e-checks, as this could tie up the money in your bank account during a dispute. Use a credit card with strong fraud protection or a Paypal account that is linked to one.
  • If you don’t have a credit card, use a prepaid debit card.

Additionally, you should never access your bank account, make purchases, or transmit any other sensitive data over public wifi networks, such as those found in hotels, airports, and restaurants. If you need to buy something or access your bank account while on the go, set up your mobile phone as a secure wifi hotspot and tether your computer to it. Make sure that you set up the tethering using a secure password and WPA2 security, and turn off the tethering capability when you are finished using it.

6. Consider Using a VPN

For extra protection when shopping or banking online, consider using a VPN, or a virtual private network. A VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection between your computer and the VPN provider’s server, allowing you to make purchases and access your bank account even on an unsecured or public wifi connection. This prevents anyone from intercepting your activity in a man-in-the-middle attack. Using a VPN is easy and requires no additional hardware, and any desktop, laptop, or mobile device can use a VPN. There are multiple VPN services available; some are free, while others require a paid subscription.

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Shopping apps, “deal” websites, one-click checkout—the same technological advances that have made online shopping so easy have also made it possible for hackers to compromise the networks of even the biggest retailers. But by taking proactive steps to protect yourself and your personal data, you can keep cyber criminals from spoiling your holidays.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via shutterstock.com

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Published on September 25, 2020

10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

When it comes to digital security, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe enough, making it much easier for hackers to access your personal data. Whether you are studying in a library or scrolling through Facebook in a coffeehouse, it is vital to have a VPN installed on your device.

VPNs work wonders when it comes to securing your internet connection. By creating an encrypted tunnel between a remote server run by the VPN service, they protect your personal data from prying eyes. There is a variety of VPNs available on the web, and we have collated a list of the best VPNs that stand out from the rest.

How to Choose a VPN

  • Free trial period – Free trials allow you to try the product risk-free. The same idea technically applies to those with 30-day full refunds as well.
  • Speed – You want your VPN to be just as fast as the internet speed at home. Good quality VPNs are ones where you see little difference between those speeds.
  • Device connection – Of course, the more devices that can connect to VPNs, the better. It increases the customers’ coverage and the product’s value. You also want to consider compatibility since fewer VPNs may work for Mac or Windows only.
  • Number of servers – The number of servers determines how much capacity a VPN can handle while you are connected. The more servers there are, the more users it can handle without running into potential disconnections or slow speeds.
  • Kill switch feature – Having this feature means that your IP address isn’t exposed if the VPN disconnects for some reason. A lack of this feature is a big deal since the whole reason why you’re paying for a VPN is to hide your IP address, among other things. (Find out how to avoid getting tracked online here: Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked)

Why You Should Trust Us

Our hand-picked VPNs are incredibly efficient and offer such distinctive features that grant you safe browsing. They outperform many VPNs in terms of both speed and security. Their primary aim is to provide you the utmost security, thus enabling you to surf the web safely and prevent any potential threat from causing harm.

Among the best VPNs’ many unique features include split tunneling, strict logging policies, high encryption level, and availability of international servers. We have gathered them in this article to enlighten our readers and offer the best pieces of advice before you get one. Therefore, take our word for it, and if you go for a VPN mentioned below, you’d be fully appeased.

1. NordVPN

The most popular VPN on the market these days is NordVPN, and it’s easy to see why. It has widespread coverage, offering a selection of over 5,000 servers spanning across 59 countries.[1] Due to the high number of servers, its speed is similar to your Wi-Fi at home.

Lifehack’s CEO, Leon, has been using NordVPN for many years and wants to recommend it for its remarkable server count in different locations with no-logs policy. The VPN perfectly works with Netflix and Fire TV stick, too.

NordVPN is also compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. You can download the app onto Chrome, Firefox, Android, and Mac OS. Thanks to its massive coverage, it’s easy to connect multiple devices onto these servers.

In terms of pricing, while NordVPN doesn’t have a free trial period, they argue that their plans are considerably cheaper than those of their competitors. For example, a one-year plan for ExpressVPN costs $8.32 per month, but NordVPN only charges $6.99 monthly.

NordVPN has a new protocol called NordLynx that is based on WireGuard with speed benefits, though it’s still under development.[2] If you’re looking for general quality and affordability, this is one of the best VPNs around.

Buy this VPN.

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2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is the second-best option out there for keeping your privacy while browsing the internet. Like many other VPNs here, they will encrypt your IP address, offer vast coverage, and can have multiple devices connected to their servers.

Compared to NordVPN, while the pricing point is higher, ExpressVPN’s biggest selling point is the number of countries that their connection covers. Depending on where you are in the world, this may be the only option you have. They have fewer servers — 160, to be precise — but they make up for the low server count by covering 94 countries.[3]

Cost-wise, your best bet is to go with the yearly plan where they charge $8.32 a month. They also have one- and six-month plans.

Buy this VPN.

3. Surf Shark

With regards to Surf Shark, you can connect multiple devices to its servers, and it’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is also available on Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and FireTV.

Furthermore, Surf Shark can whitelist apps and sites, letting them bypass the VPN. This, along with the lines of split-tunneling, is another feature that many VPNs offer. The difference is that Surf Shark allows you to whitelist specific apps or any website, while most VPNs will whitelist all sites or none at all.

The other consideration for this app is the price. While lower-tier plans are more expensive compared to others, Surf Shark’s 24-month plan is priced at $2.69 a month, so it’s cheaper than even NordVPN’s equivalent plan!

Buy this VPN.

4. CyberGhost

Another top-reviewed VPN is CyberGhost. They’ve been around for 15 years and have fine-tuned their offers and features to stay competitive. They provide the standard package of browsing the web and logging into accounts safely and give you access to regionally blocked content.

The network also maintains security from hackers, malware, and phishing. Aside from that, you can connect multiple devices, and it’s compatible with all kinds of platforms.

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What separates CyberGhost from the others is their extensive coverage. They have multiple servers, and the pricing point is still very low. It covers over 88 countries and has roughly 6200 servers for you to choose from, all while charging $2.75 for their 18-month plan.

Buy this VPN.

5. IPVanish

IPVanish’s prime purpose is to give users online freedom by providing fast speeds and private connections. It’s clear that they can meet that promise as they provide many of the features that have been listed previously from their competitors.

IPVanish is a part of SugarSync now. What is that, you may ask? It’s a cloud-based service that syncs files across devices and computers for sharing, backup, and many more. What this means is that other devices can access various files and videos so long as they are connected to your specific VPN. Furthermore, it can serve as a backup plan if you get hacked or lose your device for some reason.

Buy this VPN.

6. Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a remarkably generous company in many ways. Aside from the obvious features, they offer great incentives and discounts for people to try out their products. They claim to be the most trustworthy and reliable VPN around, and we believe that.

One notable thing is that PIA offers a free two-month trial. Compared to other VPNs to this point, none have provided free trials (though all come with a 30-day money-back guarantee). On top of that, small businesses can avail of their VPN at a discounted rate. There is also the fact that their pricing plans go as low as $2.69 a month for two years, and they let you pay with gift cards.

In terms of specs, PIA has over 2695 servers that cover 47 countries right now.

These particular aspects make PIA unique and one of the best VPNs to consider.

Buy this VPN.

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7. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is all about offering protection while you’re browsing the internet or using streaming services like Netflix. The encryption is military-grade, and its speed is ultra-fast. In truth, it is even marketed as one of the fastest VPNs.

Hotspot Shield offers a plan that only costs  $7.99 a month; however, it’s one of the few in this list to provide its services for free. Like other Freemium apps, the free version comes with limited features. That said, it gives you a much better feel for the VPN.

Also, take note that the encryption feature is still there, though the limitations in the free plan include connecting to one location in the US and having limited streaming options and speed.

Buy this VPN.

8. TunnelBear

As unusual as a name choice for an online security protection service can be, TunnelBear is nothing short of incredible. It makes our list of the best VPNs for various reasons.

The biggest one is that the company goes through a yearly security audit. This is notable because many VPNs don’t bother about independent audits to ensure their systems are secure and safe from any issues. This is critical as VPNs have gotten some bad reputation over the years, as TunnelBear has noted in their post about their security audit.[4] The fact that they are doing this annually ensures that nothing is being compromised.

Furthermore, TunnelBear offers limited services for free, but even their paid plans are pretty cheap. For individuals, you’re merely paying $3.33 per month. The only catch is that you can connect five devices regardless of which paid plan you pick.

Buy this VPN.

9. Norton

Norton has been on the security scene for some time, and it’s actually one of the founders of the internet security industry. It started with virus and malware protection in 1991 and has since branched off to other sectors as the industry has shifted.

As you might expect from a company that’s been around for a long time, Norton provides excellent services, and a few of their other services have gone into the VPN package. In reality, Norton is the only one thus far to offer a password manager with their VPN services. They provide 50GB of cloud storage as well.

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Norton has one of the cheapest VPNs, considering you can get their deluxe plan at $49.99 per year. That comes up to roughly $4.17 a month. It might be slightly higher than other equivalent plans, but you get a lot of extra value that makes it worth the price.

Buy this VPN.

10. StrongVPN

The final VPN we want to cover is StrongVPN. Like many others, it’s great at blocking unnecessary web traffic and providing a fast and simple solution to navigating the internet without any hindrance.

StrongVPN has over 900 servers. It is available in more than 30 countries and compatible with all devices. Beyond that, the only notable selling point it has compared to others is that it also offers Sugarsync services and 250GB of storage, irrespective of your chosen plan.

As for the pricing, their year-long plan costs $5.83 a month, while their month-long one is $10.

Buy this VPN.

Bottom Line

Getting online protection is important these days, and companies recognize this.

With more hacks and breaches occurring every single day, the best VPNs can provide an excellent haven for many people who value their security and privacy.

We hope that by putting together this list, you’ll be able to find the best VPN that you can trust and enjoy using. As you can see, there are several great options with no real wrong one out there. Pick the VPN that’s best for you.

Featured photo credit: Petter Lagson via unsplash.com

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