You’re smart when it comes to online security. You have complex passwords for your online accounts, and you know how to sniff out a scam. Sometimes, though, the security of your online data isn’t in your hands.

Within the last year we’ve all seen the stories about startlingly successful data breaches at Target and Home Depot. In each case, thieves compromised customers’ credit card data, with over 150 million people—that’s roughly half the population of the United States—affected by the attacks. I was one of them; while there was no fraud on any of my accounts, my bank did choose to send me a new debit card with a new account number, forcing me to update many of my online billing accounts.

And those two cases are only the most high-profile recent cyber attacks. You can bet that every day, there are many such attempted attacks on retailers, with occasional successes. And that’s why a new report from the online security experts at McAfee is troubling. In this report, McAfee states that when enterprise-level networks are forced to choose between speed and security, many corporations are putting speed first.

McAfee spoke with over 500 IT professionals, more than 30 percent of whom said their employers required them to disable firewall and security features like anti-spam, anti-virus, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and others that diminished network speed.

“I get a bad feeling knowing I had to remove security in the name of performance,” Ray Maurer, Chief Technology Officer for online security company Perket Technologies, said. “I have a hard time sleeping because it is not a matter of if a network will be compromised, but when.”

Don’t go cutting up all your cards and trying to barter for all the stuff on your family’s Christmas list just yet. Data thieves aren’t always after your information, as industrial espionage targeting corporate trade secrets will always exist in some form. Selling security solutions is what McAfee does. Its report ends with a call for corporations to learn more about its Next Generation Firewall, so while that doesn’t invalidate the study’s findings, keep that motivation in mind.

A little caution in using your credit card online is smart. Panic, not so much. There’s only so much you as a consumer can do with this news. You can opt not to store your credit card data within your online shopping accounts, entering it in full each time you visit. Make sure any sites that get your business display security certificates from online security leaders. You can mention security to online retailers via social media, but it’s unlikely that any company is going to admit engaging in risky practices. Sometimes it’s not even the retailer’s fault. In the case of the Home Depot attack, the data thieves first accessed a third-party vendor, and were then able to infiltrate Home Depot’s system.

Have these data breaches altered your online shopping behavior? Have you avoided certain retailers, or spent more shopping time in the mall this year? And most importantly, how can online retailers demonstrate to your satisfaction that they’re being responsible and proactive in protecting your personal information?

Photo: Brian/Flickr

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