Thanks to convenience of mobile devices, you don't even have to get out of bed to snag an incredible Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal. Just a few taps on your handheld device and that $98 19-inch LCD TV from Walmart is on its way to your doorstep.
According to the National Retail Federation, 53 percent of smartphone owners and 71 percent of tablet owners plan to use their devices to shop this holiday season, whether researching products, redeeming coupons, or making actual transactions.
Holiday Gifts At the same time, holidays mark the peak season for online thievery, and mobile devices are untapped treasure troves. Last week we reported that Android malware surged nearly five-fold since July. In actual numbers, malware still affects no more than two percent of Android users in the U.S., but that doesn't mean you can let down your guard (in fact the bad guys assume you do). To use an analogy for less tech-savvy people: Using your mobile devices to shop this holiday is akin to being in a fenced-in playground full of rookie pick pocketers, while your wallet is open and in the palm of your hand.
We've compiled a list of five tips to ensure safe mobile shopping this year. Follow these and you'll drastically reduce the chances of anyone stealing personal information stored in your phone.
1. Don't buy anything while connected to public Wi-Fi.
Public Wi-Fi networks aren't encrypted, which means anyone can eavesdrop on what you send. Anyone! All a black hat hacker needs is a free packet-sniffer (like Wireshark, 4.5 stars and a PCMag Editors' Choice), which captures packets of data across unsecured networks. So really, avoid looking at anything on your mobile device that you wouldn't want the guy next to you in the coffee shop to see.
2. Use discretion when downloading payment apps.
There's a dizzying variety of mobile payment apps out there, but before you download any, be sure to check out the ratings, read the reviews, and search online for any claims of being scammed. When in doubt, use apps provided directly by your bank, credit card company, or retailer (like Amazon.com, Target, Best Buy, etc.). Most mobile malware comes from downloading legitimate-looking apps from third-party app stores.
3. Go through legitimate app stores only.
Speaking of which, don't look for cheap shortcuts. When downloading any app, make sure it's from a legitimate app store like Apple’s App Store, Google’s Android Market, and Amazon's Appstore for Android; these official stores use some sort of vetting process to weed out malicious apps (Apple and Amazon do it pre-emptively, Google does it retroactively).
4. Never enter personal information on a site that begins with only http://.
If a website asks for your credit card information, always check that the web address begins with https, which means the site has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. On unsecured networks, (those that have only have http://), a hacker can easily steal personal information like usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers.
5. Be careful where you click.
Just like you do on a PC, be selective when deciding whether to click on links within emails, SMS, and social networking sites that ask for your personal information. A few mobile security products, like Lookout Premium, Trend Micro Mobile Security for Android, Webroot Mobile Security for Android, and McAfee Mobile Security will scan links for phishing attempts or malware attacks.
For more ways to ramp up security on your smartphone or tablet, check out our pick of the best 15 Mobile Security Tools. Also check out 11 Tips For Safe Shopping Online Shopping,all of which are relevant to mobile shopping as well.