Nothing can ruin your holidays more quickly than being a victim of cybercrime. So before you fire up your laptop to go shopping, here are a few ways to stay safe from online threats.

Update Everything
The best way to inoculate any device you shop with is to make sure it is running up-to-date software. And that means everything from the operating system to the apps you use to shop or bank with. When software providers find out about bugs, they send out patches to fix them. But hackers are constantly on the lookout for old, unpatched systems.

More on Protecting Your Privacy

Strengthen Weak Pass­words
Creating strong passwords is especially important on shopping, email, and banking accounts.

“Usernames and passwords are often the only security measures used to prevent your account from being compromised,” says Robert Block, senior vice president of identity strategy at SecureAuth, a security company.

Long strings of random letters, numbers, and symbols are best, Block says. And never use the same password for more than one account.


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Install Antivirus Software if You Haven’t Already Done So
Windows 10 has good security built in, but you can boost your protection by adding a product such as Avira Free Antivirus 2017, a free package, which works with both Macs and PCs.

Enable Multifactor Authenti­ca­tion When It's Available
Do that, and you’ll need two pieces of information to log into the account from a new laptop or phone. The first is your password. The second item is typically a one-time code sent to your smartphone. This will keep hackers out of your accounts, even if they have stolen your password.

Note that multifactor goes by a variety of names. For instance, it’s 2-Step Verification for Google and “two-factor authentication” for Facebook.

Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, says multi­factor and measures such as fingerprint sensors are a big help in boosting your security: “Usernames and passwords are not enough to protect key accounts like email, banking, and social media.”

Stay Off Public WiFi for Shopping
If the free internet at your favorite coffee shop doesn’t require a password, anybody can get on—and that includes hackers. Your best bet? Save your online shopping for home—and never use public WiFi to check your bank balances or credit card transactions. Can’t resist Starbucks? Get a virtual private network, or VPN. This service will create a secure connection between you and the sites you visit.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.