Another Holiday, More Scams: Tips to Stay Safe this Season from McAfee

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‘Tis the season! For cyber threats, that is. In countries around the world, the months between November and January are filled with more shopping, more parties and more online travel bookings. With so many people rushing from one happy activity to the next, cybercriminals have a lot of opportunities for scams and hacks.

Lenovo security partner McAfee® recently released its annual 12 Scams of the Holidays—and it includes some surprises this year. You probably know to protect your PC and avoid scammy email attachments. But do you also safeguard your smartphone? And take extra precautions with USB drives?

We chatted with McAfee’s Chief Consumer Security Evangelist, Gary Davis, about this year’s list and the important precautions you may not think to take. Here’s what you need to know now:

1. Smartphones are not as safe as you may think

People tend to use smartphones as, well…phones. But these devices are actually small computers that need many of the same safeguards used to secure large desktop PCs. In fact, some of the most malicious malware out there today—the kind that can harvest your bank account info—has been completely reformatted to attack mobile devices.

“The challenge here is that we’re seeing a dramatic increase in malware targeting mobile devices,” Davis said. “While most people would think twice about opening suspicious email on a PC, they tend to be more hurried when using a phone. And this is where problems begin.”

Other methods used by hackers include mobile gaming apps that ask for every permission possible and unsecure public Wi-Fi networks.

And then there are the less sophisticated (but equally damaging) threats, such as the increased likelihood for phones to be stolen at holiday parties and events. Most phones store all kinds of passwords and, left unprotected, could wreak havoc if placed in the wrong hands. If you don’t enable your smartphone’s lock and locate capabilities, everything on it will be immediately available to anyone who finds it.

What to do:

  • Password protect mobile devices throughout the holiday season
  • Never leave your phone unattended in public places
  • Add internet security software to your smartphone
  • Only download apps from an official app store and avoid any that ask for too many permissions

2. There’s no such thing as a free (and safe) USB drive

Branded USBs are popular as giveaways this time of year, particularly in the business community. But these handy little drives are incredibly vulnerable. Damaging, undetectable software is sometimes pre-installed on them, usually without the giver knowing it.

And with USB flash drives, there’s currently no way of knowing you’re a target until your PC is under attack. That’s because the threat is so new.

“A massive vulnerability was exposed within USB firmware a couple of months ago,” Davis said. “At least for a little while, I strongly encourage people not to use USBs they receive in gift baskets or as giveaways.”

What to do:

  • Carry your own USB to business meetings and events
  • Share photos through temporary files instead of flash drives. We recommend the Lenovo SHAREit app
  • Don’t buy, gift or use branded USBs this holiday season

The important thing to remember is that all electronic devices need protecting. Use caution online and stay informed of breaking news.

“It’s a really noisy, distracted time,” Davis said. “We want you to have a joyous holiday season but to do it safely as well.”

Stay safe with McAfee’s full list of all 12 Scams of the Holidays.

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