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Internet Security: How Vulnerable Are You?

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Researchers from the University of Newcastle conducted experiments designed to determine just how easy cyber thievs could steal your credit card number on the internet. Many online retailers, including some of the most popular sites, were tested, and the results might shock you at Mass Media Design.

A credit card query system was created for the task. It was designed to contact many different online retailers simultaneously and send payment requests to them until a correct combination was discovered. Different combinations of numbers, expiration dates, and security codes were sent to the sites until one was discovered that the retailer would accept. Once accepted, the researchers had all the information that they would need to be able to replicate a credit card that could be used to make purchases at any online retailer.

They discovered that it takes a remarkably small amount of time to replicate a card, sometimes only a few seconds. Even more frightening is that a thief with some knowledge of the intended victim would have an even higher level of success at replicating an active card. Such information could be readily gleaned from the troves of data released by website hackers, enabling the thief to replicate a card is as little as six seconds.

There is no evidence that cyber thieves are using methods such as the distributed attack developed by the researchers, but what was clearly demonstrated is that such attacks are credible threats. The research was shared with 36 of the sites determined to be most vulnerable to similar attacks. While it is encouraging that eight of the sites took the research seriously enough to make adaptations to their security systems, the remaining 28 internet retailers took no steps at all to protect their customers from having their credit card information stolen using such an attack.

Whether using a system such as the one the researchers developed, or some other method, cyber thieves will continue to identify and attack vulnerabilities of online retailers. As internet shopping continues to grow in popularity, it becomes even more important that consumers educate themselves to become smarter, more safety conscious shoppers. Here are some of the top internet security tips.

  • Purchase and use antivirus software, and keep it updated! This is equally as important for smart phones and tablets as it is for computers.
  • Never open attachments or click through links in emails that you weren’t expecting. This is a popular method used by scammers to install spyware onto unsuspecting people’s devices.
  • Only use secure Wi-Fi connections, particularly when conducting online business. Do not use free, open Wi-Fi hotspots, as anybody with a little knowledge could be watching.
  • Chose passwords that would not be easy to guess. Do not use the same password for multiple accounts, and never share your password with someone else.
  • Before submitting payment information online, verify that the page is secure. Log out immediately upon completing the transaction.
  • Regularly update your security software and firewall, and install any available security patches for your internet browser.
  • Never use your PIN number online, you never know who is watching.

Taking a few simple precautions when conducting business online can make the difference between being safe or becoming a victim. By becoming more aware as an online consumer, and taking some of the advice given here, you can do your part to protect yourself.