Season of good cheer: Why Christmas is also the season of the computer virus. 


As the long winter nights close in, we all get ready for the inevitable attack of the sniffles, but watch out because this is a tough time for your computer as well. According to new research this is the time, when they are most likely to catch a cold. 


Peak time for cyber crime


Research from Enigma Software Group found that December 1st was the worst day of the year for computer viruses. Using data from their Spy Hunter software they analysed when computers would be most at risk. Their conclusion: the most dangerous day of the year is Friday 1st December – otherwise known as ‘Black Friday’. 


So, what’s to blame? The answer is pretty simple: it’s all to do with Christmas and our unquenchable thirst for a deal. 


Every year, as Black Friday and other big online discount days swing by internet traffic surges. Last year, web sales surged by 216% - that’s good news for retailers, but it’s also a major opportunity for producers of computer viruses. Here’s why. It’s peak time for internet traffic which means the sea is teeming with targets for the cybercrime sharks. Other big online sales days such as Amazon Prime Day and Cyber Monday are also likely to push up the risks. 


Enigma’s findings are pretty startling. They found that last year the number of computer viruses detected shot up by more than 99% between Thanksgiving and Black Friday. 


So why the big jump in risk? Part of the reason is, of course, down to the sheer volume of traffic. More people online inevitably means more viruses being contracted. It’s a bit like regular Christmas shopping. The streets are crowded with people and many of them are battling colds. There’s every chance you’re going to catch one too. 


But it’s also down to the type of internet traffic this time of year attracts. As people search for bargains they will transfer millions of pounds. Many of them may not be regular users of the internet or computers so their defences might be a little less robust. That combination of technically naïve users willing to splash the cash is good news for any enterprising cyber-criminal. 


Unsurprisingly therefore, they actively work to target this time of year. Just as the shops lay in plans for their bumper season, so too are Cyber criminals. The industry is becoming more sophisticated and professionalised. The crooks are doing their homework and working out when the most profitable time to strike might be. 


So, what might they do? Well, knowing that people are looking to buy they can craft trusted emails that look like they might come from a reputable site. They have become highly adept at mimicking the branding and style of well-known and trusted names such as Amazon and PayPal. Their aim is to persuade you to click a link to make a purchase which will then take you to a scam site. This is their chance to steal your data or download a virus onto your system. 


How to stop them


There are of course measures you can take to stay safe online during the shopping season. First you need to know what the risks are and take precautions accordingly. Never click a link which comes through an unsolicited email, even if it appears to be from a site that you recognise. Be careful about what websites you visit searching for a good deal. 


Make sure the entire family is as clued up as you are. Children can be especially vulnerable if they have their own tablets. They can be browsing sites and even making purchases which could potentially compromise your internet security. 


In addition, make sure your defences are in place. You should ensure your antivirus is up to date and capable of managing the threats you’re most likely to face at this time of year. Choose one which can monitor and block incoming viruses from malicious phishing emails. 


Make sure all connected devices are also secure. In the age of the Internet of Things we’re more connected than ever before, and each of those devices represents a potential entry point for a computer virus. 


Try setting up automated backups to the cloud. In this way you can at least access your data if there is an attack. 


Make sure you install all the updates and patches to your internet security you can. It’s annoying to interrupt whatever you’re doing to install the latest patches, but many security breaches could have been avoided if users had installed the latest patch. 


Try using a virtual private network (VPN) If you’re using a public WiFi network, your data will not be as safe. Make sure you have a network set up to protect it from prying eyes.