Better watch out… for cyber Grinches

The holiday season may be a time of special decorations, special events, and special gift-giving; however, it is also a "special opportunity" for holiday Grinches: hackers determined to exploit, disappoint, and upend your holiday cheer! So how do you protect your holidays from their gloomy influence? Below are some of the common scams hackers run during the holidays with tips to detect and prevent them!

Holiday E-cards

Holiday e-cards may seem like messengers of goodwill and cheer, but they can also be carriers of links to malicious websites and nasty viruses. A few clues that an e-card is not legit are spelling mistakes, errors in the message, unknown senders, or senders with bogus names and odd looking URLs. Remember - if in any doubt about the legitimacy of an e-card, don't open it.

Charity Phishing Scams

Hackers know that consumers are in the giving spirit during the holidays and prey on that generosity through fake charity phishing emails. Sometimes the layout and content of fake solicitations are copied directly from legitimate charity websites. To avoid being caught in a charity phishing scam, do not click on a link sent in an email! Go directly to an organization's website to donate.

Coffee Shop Cybercriminal

Who wouldn't enjoy sipping a warm latte in their local coffee shop while finishing up online holiday shopping? But many people are not aware of the dangers of surfing the Internet on unsecured networks. Hackers may be watching what sites you are visiting, what passwords you are using, even what bank accounts you are accessing. To help prevent this kind of exploit, make sure that the security protection on your device is up to date and never check banking accounts or do online shopping from an unsecured wireless connection.

Dangerous Holiday Downloads

You may be looking for ways to add holiday festivity to your ringtones, wallpaper, screensaver, etc. through holiday-themed internet searches. However, beware - in addition to holiday cheer you may also be clicking on adware, potentially unwanted downloads, or spyware. When searching for holiday-themed items steer toward well-known sites and utilize available security protection to help steer you clear of dangerous sites (e.g. McAfee Site Advisor, Anti-malware tool by Google, LinkScanner online, etc.).

For more information on these and other common holiday hacker activity, check out Holiday Scams and Malware Campaigns posted by the US Computer Emergency Readiness team (US-CERT).

At any time, if you feel your university account may have been compromised, immediately contact the ITS Help Desk at 608.342.1400 or

Don’t forget good ol’ fashioned burglars

Get a new TV during Black Friday sales? Maybe a computer? Expecting large orders from Amazon? Consider holding onto the boxes for a while before putting them out with the recycling.  That big box on your curb tells nearby thieves there are goodies inside for the taking.  To be extra-special careful, break the boxes down into several pieces and put them out over the course of a few weeks.  Better safe than sorry!


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