A family with mum, dad and two children look at a tablet while sitting on the sofa.

National Cyber Security Centre reveals six steps to safer online Christmas shopping

The UK Government’s top cybersecurity experts have urged Christmas shoppers to follow a new online safety campaign, after it was revealed that criminals stole an average of £775 from each victim last year.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – part of GCHQ – has launched an advertising campaign called Cyber Aware, which is being supported by companies including Microsoft. It outlines six key behaviours to protect accounts and devices from the majority of online crime.

Statistics from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau show that over last year’s Christmas shopping period (between November 1 and January 31) there were 17,405 reports of online shopping fraud, resulting in total losses of £13.5 million – an average of £775 per incident.

However, there are fears these figures could rise this year as more people shop online due to coronavirus restrictions.

The six key behaviours that the NCSC is recommending people follow are:

  • Use a strong and separate password for your email
  • Create strong passwords using three random words
  • Save your passwords in your browser
  • Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA)
  • Update your devices and apps
  • Back up your data

Lindy Cameron, Chief Executive of the NCSC, said: “Technology will play an essential role over the festive period, with more people shopping online than ever before. Scammers stole millions from internet shoppers last Christmas but by following our advice, you can protect yourself from the majority of their crimes. We hope the Cyber Aware campaign helps people to shop confidently online and enjoy their Christmas.”

There are signs that internet spending is growing in the run-up to Christmas. Official figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that the average weekly amount spent online in Britain in October – the latest month for figures – was just over £2.3 billion. That’s around £240 million more than the Christmas period last year and a £300 million rise on the previous month.

The Cyber Aware campaign is delivered by the NCSC working alongside the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It is being supported by leading organisations such as Microsoft, Vodafone, BT, ASOS, Barclays and Citizens Advice.

Sian John, Chief Security Adviser at Microsoft UK, said Microsoft accounts and devices are protected with multi-factor authentication, which is an effective block against 99.9% of attacks on accounts.

“If you are shopping online this year, spend the time you would have spent wrapping up warm to head out to the shops on checking your online security,” she said.

“If it feels suspicious or unusual, it may well be. That is why, at Microsoft, we recognise the importance of Cyber Aware behaviours like multi-factor authentication and having strong and secure passwords. Let’s make sure the gifts we give this Christmas go to the people we love, not to the fraudsters who just want to steal your money.”

Cyber Aware marks the first time the NCSC has launched a TV, radio and online advertising campaign.