The Christmas Economy’s Home Stretch — and One More Big Hack

Normally we like the holiday weeks to have more “genteel” posts, with a little holiday history, and some prognostications for the current economy and the new year.

Well, okay, sometimes those prognostications aren’t necessarily “genteel,” given that the future can be a murky place, but all in all, we like to infuse some sense of “seasonal lights” into our updates.

Alas, though, we do have some recently breaking “hard news” to report, in the world of breaches and cyber-security. As you may have  heard, Yahoo reported yet another major breach of consumer data — their second such red-faced report of the year.  More surprisingly, the breach happened back in 2013, and it appears Yahoo only recently found out — about what could be the largest data breach in history — when the info became available for sale online, a couple months back.

Evidently more than a billion users were affected — including us! Our email warning that our account might have been hacked arrived last week. The only relative good news? This happened so long ago that any effects from the breach should have shown themselves by now — and there’ve been so many other online security lapses that we’ve changed our various passwords several times in the interim, on most of our accounts (though we went ahead and changed our Yahoo passwords again, too.)

Still, “even if you have changed your password or security questions since 2013, that sensitive data could help attackers phish you or your contacts. Hackers could use stolen information and pose as a friend or business to get you to click on malicious links and share even more data,” as our linked CNN Money article notes.

So — what should you do besides change passwords? Practical tips from Arizona’s Attorney General include also changing security  questions and answers for those same online accounts, and making sure passwords are at least six characters long and are separate for each one.

Also “avoid clicking links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails; beware of unsolicited emails asking for personal information; (and) sign up for two-step email verification, which requires a password and another step to verify your identity.”

Once you’ve done all that, maybe you’ll be ready for some Christmas cheer? After all, over in Britain it’s reported that despite looming Brexit fears, “it has been the spending boom that has kept the economy growing, with overall consumer spending up more than five per cent year-on-year. The growth of High Street sales has been slower, up 1.7 per cent according to accountants BDO, but that is the best for more than a year. Of course there has also been a huge shift to buying online, with the UK showing a higher proportion of purchases online than any other major economy. At around 17 per cent of the total, excluding fuel, that is higher even than the US.”

While in the U.S., holiday sales continue to edge upward — though the emphasis remains on “edge;” “Sales were up 3.8 percent from a year ago. Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales also nudged up 0.1 percent last month after a downwardly revised 0.6 percent increase in October.”

We’ll know more about how December shakes out when we have figures in the new year.  As for how long the season has been a lynchpin for the economy, a historical overview in Slate reminds us that even by World War I, “early Christmas shopping had fermented into the potent historical brew of idealism, patriotism, and sheer retail gluttony that we know today. Uneasiness over November shopping and outright ire over September and October sales are now some of America’s oldest Yuletide traditions. Like the annual unwrapping of a fruitcake or an ugly sweater, the idea that Christmas ‘comes earlier every year’ is entirely predictable, bound by tradition—and yet somehow always surprising to us.”

As is the swiftness which with it — and the new year — arrive! Excuse us, we have some last minute gifts to get! See you next week, in the run-up to New Year!

 

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