Digital Crave

Is it safe to shop on your tablet?

Marc Saltzman
Digital Crave

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From the mailbag: “I want to start shopping on my tablet. Are there differences in the security issues I might encounter on my tablet as opposed to my computer?”

Yes and no. Some of the security issues associated with online shopping are the same for tablets as they are for personal computers, but there are some additional considerations, as well.

Whether you're on an iPad, Android tab or Windows 8/RT product, the following are some tips to ensure a safe shopping experience.

Use an app: Rather than using your browser to shop a store’s mobile website, use the store's app if they have one. Properly designed mobile apps are far more secure than mobile websites, say the experts. Why? Since apps don't need a web browser they're less susceptible to attacks from incorrectly typed URLs and packet sniffing (the internet version of wire-tapping) from unsecured networks.

Don't use Wi-Fi hotspots: When you log onto open and unsecured networks, like at your local coffee shop, you put your personal identity at risk because tech-savvy thieves might be able to see your data, activity and passwords. Using a free hotspot to read the news is one thing, but try to resist online shopping and online banking until you're on a private and secured network back at home.

Consider a 'VPN' service: Incorporating a Virtual Private Networking (VPN) service hides your identity while spending time online. This includes masking your personal information and credit card number from prying eyes. These VPN solutions work over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks to keep your web browsing and data private and secure. Some VPN services are free, while others cost a few dollars per month.

Download legitimate apps: A number of Android apps in particular have been known to lift data off smartphones and tablets, unbeknownst to the user. Yes, they’ve been identified and removed by Google, and developers banned from the Google Play store, but in some cases, after it’s too late. Therefore, stick with well-known developers when selecting apps because you never know what nasty surprises are in store.

Mobile security software: Security companies, such as Norton (Symantec), offer solutions for multiple smartphone and tablet platforms -- be it Android, Apple's iOS, Windows and BlackBerry OS. Because these digital devices are growing in popularity and used for messaging, web browsing, online shopping and app downloading, you can expect more instances of fraud, viruses and other mobile malware ("malicious software"). Here's a link to buy Norton Mobile Security 2013.

A secure connection: If you're going to shop on the mobile web instead of an app, look at the browser's URL (address bar) before you type in your credit card information. The web address should begin with https, which means the site has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed, opposed to the regular http. On unsecured http sites, a hacker can easily steal personal information such as usernames, passwords and credit card numbers.

And a few more suggestions: Don't dismiss the importance of passwords; while it's inconvenient, lock your mobile phone with a password, PIN number or pattern, and set the maximum number of incorrect password submissions to three. Also, check your wireless statements – be it online or if you get an itemized paper statement in the mail each month -- and look for any suspicious charges. If anything appears odd, contact your credit card company immediately.

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