Black Friday shoppers should beware this year because, as the pandemic drives more shoppers toward online shopping, it also provides more opportunities for hackers digging for information they can steal.
As more people work from home, they're using gadgets and electronics for both work and play, often using the same passwords. This might leave those looking to do online shopping for the holidays vulnerable to hackers.
"We've seen a major surge in the deployment of malware, bad code that can intercept your online shopping," said Dr. Richard Harknett, co-director of the Ohio Cyber Range Institute.
Shoppers should be aware of the hallmarks of a secure site: a locked padlock icon near the URL in the browser, or "https" in the web address box, instead of "http."
"I know that sounds a little technical, but this is the first thing you need to know if the place that you're going to give your money to in the form of a credit card is safe," said Harknett.
Experts also suggest using credit cards to make purchases, instead of debit cards so shoppers' entire bank account isn't exposed to fraud if something goes wrong. Anyone looking to spend often on mobile devices like their cell phones should consider investing in virus protection software.
"Over the last two years, the percentage of malware directed at operating systems on our smartphones has risen exponentially," said Harknett.
Public Wi-Fi is also an enemy to watch out for because public systems are often less secure.
Harknett said there are simply more "sharks" in the water today than ever before, and, as more people continue to rely on online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, that isn't expected to change.