Holiday Online Shopping is in Full Force - Is Your Network Prepared?


The online shopping holiday frenzy is upon us and will stretch all the way to New Year’s Day.  In fact, the National Retail Federation says that almost half of U.S. consumers plan to make at least some of their holiday purchases online this year, and that includes shopping from work.

The holiday season accounts for more sales than Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day combined, and the National Retail Federation predicts that online sales will total $105 billion of this holiday season’s forecasted total retail sales of $630 billion. According to an NRF survey, 46 percent of holiday shopping ­? including browsing and buying ? will be done online this year.

What does this mean to your organization?  Well, if you’re honest, you know your employees are going to do some online holiday shopping at some point during business hours, even if just for a short time, and that probably includes you. So, with employees spending work time surfing the web to research or purchase items, you need to understand the three biggest challenges your organization faces ? network security, productivity and bandwidth consumption. Let’s take a look at each one.

Network Security - Employees who shop online at work inadvertently create opportunities for malicious attacks on both your network and organization. Hackers use a “threat vector” to gain access to one or more systems or servers on your network. They can compromise systems on your network and deliver a malicious payload such as a virus, worm, Trojan or spyware.

Threat vectors can include phishing, an email fraud method in which the perpetrator sends out a legitimate-looking email in an attempt to gather personal and financial information from unsuspecting recipients. Another attack vector may take the form of “Malvertising,” or Malicious Advertising, a threat that uses online advertising to spread malware, which then captures information from an infected machine, or searches your network to find servers and other systems that can be compromised.

Productivity - When employees bring their own smartphones and tablets into the office, not only is the line between work life and personal life increasingly blurred, but new threats can inadvertently be introduced to the corporate network via malware present on the device. Employees exercise more freedom during work hours for personal activities such as online shopping, and they figure that’s OK because they’re using their own devices. The bottom line, however, is that when employees shop on company time, they’re not working, which means their productivity decreases. 

Bandwidth - Besides chipping away at their productivity while shopping on company time, your employees also could be misappropriating valuable bandwidth. With half of them shopping online at some point during the holidays, the bandwidth available to critical applications on your network is going to disappear. Retailers’ promotional videos and the streaming of holiday music also eat up huge chunks of bandwidth, which can have a negative impact on network performance if left unchecked.

Keeping Your Assets Safe and Your Employees Productive

Image via Pixabay

So, what can you do? Below are five tips for securing your network, improving employee productivity, and maximizing your organization’s bandwidth during the holiday online shopping season.

  1. Secure Your Traffic - Get a next-generation firewall that will secure inbound and outbound traffic from threats, provide you with the tools to determine which websites your employees can and can’t access, and allow you to identify and control the apps used on your network and how much bandwidth you want to allocate to them. In addition, with more websites moving to SSL encryption, it’s important that the next-generation firewall be able to decrypt and inspect encrypted traffic for threats.
  2. Educate Your Workforce - Help your employees learn how to recognize phishing emails and avoid malvertising. Reinforce the following steps:
  • Be cautious of any requests for sensitive information via email.
  • Never click on links within emails or messages. If you don’t recognize the sender or the email looks suspicious, it could be a phishing email. 
  • On computers and devices used for work, visit only work-related websites
  1. Practice Password Hygiene - Educate employees to use different passwords for every account and establish policies for strong passwords ? including guidelines regarding password length, the use of special characters and periodic expiration ? and reduce the number of passwords through single sign-on.
  2. Keep Systems Up-to-Date - Many attacks are based on known vulnerabilities in recognized browsers, as well as in plug-ins and common apps. To protect your network, it’s important to apply updates and patches with the fixes to block exploits, as soon as they are available.
  3. Prioritize Business Activities - Regain control of your network by limiting the use of your website to business-related activities. Use application intelligence tools that allow IT managers to monitor the use of network applications to help determine who might be violating company policies or visiting sites that have no business purpose. Content and URL filtering can be used to prevent employees from visiting websites dedicated to shopping and other non-productive topics. Also, application control provides the tools to restrict the use of applications such as social media to employees who have a business reason to use them.

The holiday buying season is here.  Employees WILL shop online, which means your network is at risk, productivity will go down and critical bandwidth will be used for non-business related applications. Nobody wants to be a Scrooge around the holidays, but it’s essential to consider the tips above, and also take a look at your network to understand whether the security plan your business has in place supports the deeper level of network security that you need.


About Scott Grebe

Scott Grebe has over 15 years of product marketing and product management experience working for high tech companies including Dell SonicWALL, Apple Computer and SGI. In his current role, Mr. Grebe is a senior product marketing manager for security products at Dell. Mr. Grebe holds an M.S. in Communications (television/radio/film) from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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