There’s a long history of theft in the holidays. Think back to Victorian-era Christmases, full (at least in the imagination) of Dickensian street urchins, grubby thieves to the last, but with hearts of gold. More modern thefts are endless: probably the most famous Christmas theft is when Martians kidnapped Santa Claus, forcing him to conquer them. OK, perhaps that isn’t the most famous. That might belong to the Grinch, who tried to steal Christmas, but lo – they are actually singing, even without their gifts. What the Grinch finally realized is that while you can steal stuff, you can’t steal a concept. The Grinch was born too early. Fast forward to today and we have theft on our smartphones. Behold the era of mobile security shopping.
A familiar kind of theft
We live in an age where the terrifying term “identity theft” is commonplace. The concept of who you are, which is at its most tangible an ephemeral mystery, is now malleable enough to be stolen with a few keystrokes. In addition to identity, your purchasing information, which is a form of identity, can be compromised by your shopping habits alone. This has, unfortunately, become a new Christmas tradition.
Obviously, the busiest shopping days of the year are going to be an absolute goldmine for thieves and hackers. Last year we saw the famous Target breach, the one that seemed to break the dam of public awareness. Millions of people were affected by the credit card hack. Anyone who swiped a card in a Target was potentially compromised, and that’s a huge group. Throughout the year we received more and more information about other hacks, everywhere from Michael’s to P.F. Chang’s, and if you can’t get slightly-above-average Chinese food without peace of mind, then we might as well give up.
A possible mobile solution
This Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday all saw a huge surge in mobile shopping, as more and more people used smartphones and tablets than ever before. This is exciting and shows the increased ominipresence of these devices, but how does that affect security? In some ways, it is no different than shopping on your computer or laptop. You still need to keep a few safety tips in mind, like:
- Ignore obvious spam
- Keep your passwords secure
- Only use trusted sources
- Use a multi-factor authentication.
To these old standards, when shopping with a mobile device, you can add caution about WiFi hotspots. If you’ve been walking around all day and are dying to find a good hotspot to make a purchase, make sure it is secure, using a VPN. You don’t want to use a public WiFi area to make purchases. Hackers are smart, and they know that’s the area to stake out.
But the importance of mobile goes deeper than convenience. This year saw the release of ApplePay, an incredibly secure way to make payments directly from your smartphone. Apple isn’t the first to try this – there is Google Wallet, for one – but they have revolutionized the security aspect of it by having your phone as the mere conduit. Apple doesn’t know what you’re buying, and the store never sees or reads an actual credit card.
Your iPhone ApplePay is connected to a bank account or credit company, through a code. Say you bank at Gotham First National. Your account there is synched up with your phone, whose identity code is (let’s say) 1234. You make a purchase of $120 at Gotham Spats, because you need spats. Your phone contacts your bank and says 1234 just spent $120 at the Spats store, and the money is transferred without Apple getting your information, or an employee or hacker getting your card. The only thing wrong is why are you buying spats for yourself? It’s Christmas.
Right now, just 2% of retailers are accepting ApplePay. Expect that to change, and expect competitors to catch up in terms of security. There is no foolproof system. Hackers and thieves are like viruses; they mutate to stay a step ahead. People will get robbed; Martians will kidnap Santa. But we can find ways to stop most of it, and if we continue to demand mobile security in our shopping season, the only Christmas robberies we see will be on TV.