The Nebraska Banker Nov/Dec 2014 For some, holiday shopping is like Christmas every day. For others, it's like a never-ending Black Friday.

For hackers, it's a dream come true.

"Cyber Monday" is a magical day that occurs the Monday following Thanksgiving. It's a day for people who like to find great deals while shopping from the comfort of their own home, via smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. The IBM 2013 Holiday Benchmark Reports show that for Cyber Monday 2013, retail sales grew 20.6% from the previous year and projections for 2014 follow a similar trend.

With the additional online shopping during the holiday season, hackers are being given more opportunities to steal personal information so they can do a little extra shopping themselves. As of today, there have been 242 reported data breaches in 2014. With names like Staples, Home Depot, AT&T, and even Apple included in the list, it's becoming clear that no matter where or how you spend your money, a chance exists that your information will be exploited.

It's probably safe to say we can't assume the general American populous is going to turn to homemade gifts, do all of their Christmas shopping in cash, or even consider security in their haste to get the best deal on the Disney Frozen Complete Story Playset.

So, what can you do to help ensure the safety of all this holiday season?

Well, for starters, here are some things your financial institution can do to share information with your coworkers, employees, and customers:

Raise awareness. One major thing you can do to prevent your holiday from becoming a hacker-day is to raise awareness. Remind your employees and customers that the holidays are a time when a lot of money is going to be moving out from your financial institution, so the chance of fraudulent activity is going to be higher than normal. Take alerts seriously and remind your customers to keep an eye on their financial statements.

Dust off the Red Flag training. A great way to remind your employees of the dangers this holiday season is by going over your identity theft prevention program (Red Flags). The holidays are busy for everyone, so there may not be time to revisit your full-blown annual Red Flag training, but it wouldn't hurt to refresh the memory of some common red flags, such as inconsistent account use or notification of unauthorized transactions.

Just because this issue affects you at work doesn't mean that it won't affect you at home. So, as you are doing some shopping yourself, keep the following best practices in mind:

Be sure the website says "https://". If you are about to make a purchase, be sure the web address says "https://", and not just "http://". The additional "s" on the end means that your information is going to be encrypted, which makes it much more difficult for a hacker to intercept and use.

Use only secure Wi-Fi. Areas of concern include, but are not limited to, free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, the mall, airports, etc. If you didn't have to enter a password to use the Wi-Fi, neither did the hacker sitting two rows over from you.

Log out when finished. Securely purchasing your gifts is only the beginning. Do you know how much damage hackers could do if you didn't log out of your Amazon account and then misplaced your phone? As Amazon currently sells over 200 million products, let's just say, a lot.

And whether you are at work or shopping from home in your jammies on Cyber Monday:

Be mindful It's one thing to be aware of a threat. It's another thing to be mindful of it. Awareness involves the ability to recognize an issue, whereas mindfulness is all about anticipating the issue and being prepared with a response. Hackers often have the advantage of surprise, but if you stay "in the know" (by staying in touch with the cyber-community, by installing antivirus updates in a timely and secure manner, and by thinking before you act) then your chances of staying safe just got a whole lot better.

May you have happy, secure, hacker-free holidays!