ONLINE Christmas shoppers are being warned to be on their guard as the threat of cyber-attacks reaches unprecedented levels.

The anticipated record numbers of people buying gifts over the internet, coupled with the sophisticated techniques used by cyber criminals, means the risk of shoppers falling victim has never been greater, according to the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC).

It has put together a series of tips to help buyers stay protected online.

The campaign coincides with a Christmas lecture tour, #christmascyber2015, which launches in Aberdeen today.

Now in their fourth year, the lectures complement the themes upon which the new National Progression Awards in Cyber Security are based – digital forensics, ethical hacking and data security. Events will be held in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow and will include speakers such as Paul Mason, an ethical hacker from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, hacker Matt Sumers from the NCC Group and Daniel Cuthbert, from cyber security company Sensepost.

The director of the SBRC, Mandy Haeburn-Little, said cyber-attacks could happen to any individual or organisation, no matter their size or where they are based.

“The recent raid on TalkTalk is an example of how even the biggest of companies can fall victim,” she said. “So, as the Christmas rush reaches a peak, bringing with it the biggest cyber threat we’ve seen, it is vital that shoppers do all they can to prevent themselves becoming the next cyber-attack case.

“It has been estimated that as much as 80 per cent of cyber-crime can be prevented by getting the cyber basics right, such as updating software, good passwords and regular system backups.

“But we also want shoppers to be extra vigilant in following some simple tips to have a happy and trouble-free Christmas.”

The SBRC said it is important to keep personal and financial information safe when buying online, and users should watch out for three things: “https://” at the start of the address bar, where the “s” indicates a secure server; a padlock icon, which some sites add to the “https://” to give a further indication of safety; and a green address bar, another security indicator used by some sites.

With shoppers using various websites to buy presents, it will likely mean a flurry of unexpected emails, such as receipts or links to other sites, which also heightens the threat of leaving people open to so-called “phishing scams”. This is an attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy site using email.

Tips to avoid this sort of scam include not responding to emails asking for personal information such as a person’s username, password, or credit card details, not clicking on any link to a bank or a merchant from an email, and regularly checking bank, credit and debit card statements to ensure that all transactions are legitimate.

Last month, the Scottish Government launched a new strategy – Safe, Secure and Prosperous: A Cyber Resilience Strategy for Scotland – to outline how individuals and businesses can increase their online resilience.