This Is the Worst Day of the Year for Computer Viruses

And find out how to protect your data.

this-is-the-worst-day-for-computer-viruses-275161979-A.-and-I.-KrukA. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock

You already know what cold winter months mean for your immune system: more sniffles, sneezes, and sick days. As it turns out, December means more viruses for your computer too.

Enigma Software Group analyzed data from its SpyHunter anti-malware software to figure out when computers were most at risk of picking up viruses. While you’re spreading cheer during the holidays, malware makers are spreading viruses, the findings suggest. Find out why your phone is at risk of a virus, too.

Compared to the 30 days leading up to and including Thanksgiving, computer infections increased by 99.23 percent from Black Friday through Christmas last year, according to Enigma.

No, your gadgets aren’t just trying to copy the cold and flu season in the real world. The bump in computer viruses is actually linked with browsing habits. More people are online doing holiday shopping after Thanksgiving, meaning more chances for malware to get in, says Enigma spokesperson Ryan Gerding.

There could be some criminal planning involved too. “What we’re finding this year is bad guys are trying to trick you into thinking you’ve been hacked,” says Gerding. Knowing online shoppers are expecting retailer emails, they’ll create a fake message that looks like it’s coming from a legitimate site like PayPal or Apple. The e-mails have a receipt for items you never ordered, hoping you click the link to cancel the order—and get led to a scam site. The link will either download a virus to your computer or mimics the real site and asks for (and steals) private login information. Don’t miss these other 8 Facebook scams that could steal your data too.

In 2015, the worst day for viruses was Cyber Monday, likely because so many people were shopping. This year’s Cyber Monday saw 123 percent more viruses than normal, compared to the average in the 30 days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Last year, though, the risk didn’t peak after the online shopping day—December 14 had 120 percent more viruses than usual. “The middle of December is right when I’m in the middle of all my holiday shopping,” says Gerding. “I’m at my most frazzled and would be getting e-mails on stuff I’ve purchased.” Learn how to stay safe using Facebook Marketplace.

To protect yourself from those scam e-mails, Gerding recommends never clicking a link in a message. “Even if it’s a retailer you trust or if it’s an e-mail you were expecting, rather than click on a link within an e-mail about a purchase, go to your web browser,” he says. You can track your order or make sure your account hasn’t been hacked without risk of following a phony link.

Keeping your computer software updated and using an anti-virus program can also keep malware at bay, says Gerding. In case a virus still gets through with both those protections, back up your files on an external hard drive or on the cloud so your important documents aren’t gone for good.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.