Thanksgiving Cyber feast: Safeguarding against seasonal scams

November 22, 2023  |  Theodoros Karasavvas

The content of this post is solely the responsibility of the author.  AT&T does not adopt or endorse any of the views, positions, or information provided by the author in this article. 

As the Thanksgiving season rapidly approaches, many look forward to the warmth of family gatherings, the aroma of roasted turkey, and the joy of gratitude. Yet, just as we prepare our homes and hearts for this festive season, cybercriminals are gearing up to unleash a different kind of feast—a cyber feast—rife with sophisticated scams targeting unsuspecting individuals and businesses alike. 

This article will take a closer look at various Thanksgiving-themed cyber threats, illuminating the nature and impact of devious digital deceptions while unpacking the methodologies these digital bad actors try to use. But fear not, because we’ll also offer some key strategies to help you secure and fortify your digital domains throughout the holidays.

The rise of seasonal cyber threats

As November and the holiday season roll around, a surge in online activity sweeps across the United States, both good and bad. Thanksgiving not only signifies a time of family gatherings and festive meals but also marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, especially with Black Friday and Cyber Monday right around the corner—in response to this, cybercriminals see a ripe opportunity to scam

According to the New Jersey Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Cell, recent reports had indicated. “spoofed emails were sent appearing to originate from legitimate organizations and contained [Thanksgiving-themed subject lines]’” noting how criminals and bad actors exploit the spirit of the season. Furthermore, they highlight that ”an Emotet banking trojan campaign was [also] observed using Thanksgiving lures.”

Criminals know that with increased online transactions comes increased vulnerability, so they capitalize on the holiday spirit, designing scams that blend seamlessly with genuine promotional content, making it harder for individuals to distinguish between what's authentic and what's not.

The risks of phishing

One of the primary ways cybercriminals target individuals and businesses is through phishing attacks. Around Thanksgiving time, these types of scams might manifest as emails purporting to offer massive discounts, invitations to exclusive Thanksgiving events, or even charitable appeals meant to tug at the heartstrings to draw you in. 

However, phishing isn’t restricted to just email—with their vast user bases, social media platforms are also prime targets for scams of all kinds. 

Cybercriminals often create fake profiles or pages promoting too-good-to-be-true Thanksgiving deals, leading unsuspecting and unknowing victims to phishing websites or even tricking them into sharing personal information that can be further exploited.

The hidden benefits of cybersecurity

When businesses transform their robust cybersecurity processes into content, it becomes a powerful tool for brand awareness and elevation. Sharing with your audience the measures you've implemented reassures them of the sanctity of their data. It's not just about telling them they're safe; it's about showing them.

For potential customers, especially in niche markets, tangible information is a beacon of trust. So when they can actively see and better understand your cybersecurity endeavors, they're more inclined to transact confidently and engage more deeply with other content you offer. This heightened trust invariably amplifies word-of-mouth recommendations, which is one of the most potent forms of marketing out there.

But the benefits don't end there—preemptively investing in cybersecurity and championing its importance through content can help businesses significantly reduce future mitigation costs and ensure smooth business continuity into the future. After all, dealing with a cyber breach isn’t just financially taxing, but it can erode years' worth of hard work in an instant.

Embracing the tools of the future

While traditional antivirus software remains effective at identifying and neutralizing known malware and viruses, its capabilities are increasingly tested by novel and intricate cyber threats. Often, these conventional tools are found wanting when pitted against the innovative strategies of modern cybercriminals, especially during peak periods like the holiday season.

One of the leading tools safeguarding individuals and businesses are next-generation antivirus solutions—but what sets this new breed apart from the tools we’ve employed in the past? The incorporation of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, also known as AI and ML, respectively.

Unlike its older counterparts, a next-generation antivirus doesn't just stop at scanning for known threats. These tools actively leverage machine learning and behavioral analysis and can intuitively recognize, understand, and preemptively counteract new and unseen cyberattacks as a result.

So, as cybercriminals craft and develop ever-more sophisticated scams, especially around events like Thanksgiving, employing AI and ML-driven tools becomes even more essential. These types of innovative solutions allow systems to "learn" from each encounter and continuously refine their detection and response protocols over time.

Moreover, the integration of AI and ML in cybersecurity tools extends beyond just antivirus solutions. These technologies can help assist in aspects like real-time threat intelligence, anomaly detection, and even automated incident responses, ensuring that businesses and individuals aren’t just simply reacting to threats but are actively preemptively safeguarding against them.

Securing your digital experience

Awareness is the first line of defense, and by recognizing potential threats, users can sidestep many of the pitfalls cybercriminals lay in their path. To help you stay safe this Thanksgiving, here are some key cybersecurity strategies you can employ:

  • Email vigilance: Always scrutinize emails for telltale signs of phishing, including any misspellings, generic greetings, or suspicious-looking links, especially Thanksgiving-themed ones. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Instead of clicking on email links, it’s prudent to verify whether it’s a real person/brand.
  • Regular monitoring: Frequently check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions, especially after making online purchases from a new supplier or collaborating with someone you haven’t before. Quick detection of any incidents can help limit potential damage.
  • Monitoring competition: Another great way to continue improving your defenses against seasonal scams is to monitor the competition and their efforts—this means both good and bad websites. With examples of what you should and shouldn’t do, you’ll be able to improve incident response protocols, and communication channels, and find the right defense strategies.
  • Multi-factor or two-factor authentication (MFA-2FA): Activate MFA or 2FA for online accounts when available, as this adds an additional layer of security that criminals often have trouble breaking through.
  • Use a reputable antivirus and firewall: Regularly update and run antivirus software, especially a modern solution powered by AI and ML that can actively detect and block malware downloads, phishing sites, and any malicious attachments.

Thanksgiving should be a time of joy and gratitude, not one of fear and trepidation because of bad actors. 

Thankfully, if you understand the threats that are out there and adopt a proactive security stance, you can safeguard their online presence, ensuring the only feasts happening are those at the dinner table.

Staying safe this Thanksgiving season

The Thanksgiving season offers both warmth and potential vulnerability. As the festive spirit engulfs the air, the shadows of cyber threats loom large, targeting both the eager shopper and the vigilant business. Yet, as new and innovative threats emerge, our arsenal of defenses and understanding also expands. 

The future of cybersecurity isn’t just about employing reactive measures when things go wrong, but utilizing proactive, forward-thinking strategies at all times to help us remain safe. Staying vigilant and using powerful tools to help you stay secure through the holiday season and beyond.

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