Cyber Monday a myth, but workers’ online shopping habits still a risk

Mastercard announced this week that the so-called "Cyber Monday" is a myth, but information security experts are still warning to businesses to keep an eye on their employees as they begin their online shopping en masse.

Coined last year by National Retail Federation, the term Cyber Monday refers to the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, supposedly the busiest online shopping day of the year—the theory being that workers returning to work rush to shop online at their desks during their downtime.

But Mastercard announced this week that last year the most busy online shopping day of the year was Dec. 5, and that of 1,638 consumers surveyed for its Holiday Shopping Insights Report only 10 percent planned to shop online on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Though this mythic day of increased online shopping really doesn't exist, there is little doubt that an increasing number of people are using the Internet to purchase their holiday gifts.

According to the Mastercard report, three out of four people plan to shop online during the holidays, with 26 percent claiming they will shop online more this year than last. On average, those surveyed plan to spend 41 percent of their total holiday dollars online. And according to Neilson Net Ratings, in 2005 online holiday shopping increased by 30% and experts are expecting another double digit year of growth for 2006.

Of concern to information security experts is the fact that many of those shoppers will steadily be using company resources from Black Friday through the end of the shopping season to do their shopping while at work. According to market researchers with comScore Networks, approximately 58 percent of workers do most of their online shopping at work.

This can open organizations up to risks including extra bandwidth consumption, loss of productivity and increased spam and phishing attacks.

"With the boom in pro-service and small e-micro-retailers, employees have a wider array of sites to surf for holiday gifts and general consumption goods," said Vince Rossi, president and CEO at St. Bernard Software. "On top of the productivity concern, (companies) also need to be aware of the seasonal security issues associated with online shopping. In fact, our team has identified a rise in phishing attacks throughout the year and expect they will increase rapidly through the remainder of the quarter."

In spite of the risks, most businesses choose to turn a blind eye to online shopping while on the clock. A recent survey conducted by St. Bernard found that 76 percent of organizations do not block employee Internet access to online shopping sites during work hours.

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