Digital security tip: Prepare now for seasonal cyberattacks

Another year is coming to a close. As we prepare for sugar plums, roasted chestnuts, and other holiday traditions, criminals are thinking about the ways they can capitalize on current events and issues this season. By thinking ahead and staying alert, however, we can better prepare for potential phishing schemes, social engineering, and other cyberattacks.

As always, you can anticipate some obvious messages during the holiday season. For example, you may receive a message saying that an order has a problem or that your credit card is about to be charged $52,000, and you can fix it if you “click here.”

Fraudulent shipping and tracking emails and notifications are also a popular phishing scheme. If you receive a message that says something like “click here now or your package will not be delivered,” please do not open the link. If you did order something, go to the website where you purchased the item — manually, by typing the URL in your browser or using your own bookmark/shortcut — and track it there. Attackers use this tactic because it works well. If you have even the tiniest doubt, don’t open the link. Verify it manually and report the message as a phishing attempt to phishing-report@us-cert.gov.

This year, you can expect criminals to leverage the ongoing pandemic, social topics like climate change, and supply chain issues in their attacks. For example, you might receive an email that says the year’s hottest toy, which has been difficult to find, is only a click away — and at a reasonable price.

Attackers also may use QR codes, which are more prevalent than ever. We often talk about the idea that when you open a link you are saying, “I trust you — take me where you want,” but we don’t talk about the fact that a QR code is essentially a link, and you should treat it with the same caution.

Cybercriminals will use all these tactics and more to entice you to open a link or attachment, download a file, provide personal information, or visit a website. Some of their ploys are well-crafted, so knowing what to expect when we receive these messages should help us to remember that criminals are actively trying to take advantage of us and current events.

Remember what you’ve been taught:

  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Also, if it sounds too bad to be true, it probably is.
  • If an email, call, or message seems unusual or scares you, making you think you need to act, it’s probably a scam.

If you receive a phishing attempt through a university email account, forward the email as an attachment to phish@utah.edu and U Police at uupd-tips@utah.edu. If you’re not sure whether an email is a phishing attempt, send it to phish@utah.edu anyway, and let the ISO analyze it.

All the gifts you’ll be offered through email and text messages? They’re questionable. The Information Security Office’s gift of free email/phishing analysis is solid. It’s like the jelly of the month club — a gift that keeps on giving all year long.