Online security made major news this week when technology experts realized that hacker groups had stolen the user names and passwords for nearly 2 million accounts on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Linkedin. With holiday shopping in full swing, online shoppers should be wary of the potential risks of making purchases online.  

According to new research from the global trade experts at UL, mobile payments are growing at a rate of 42 percent every year. In 2012, mobile payments totaled more than $171.5 billion.  By 2016, it's predicted that 448 million people will be doing their shopping online. But this explosive growth in e-commerce also comes with risks.  

Identity theft, malware, fraud, and hacker attacks are just a few dangers lurking online. UL research shows that this year alone, hackers will steal close to $100 billion globally. Behind the scenes, companies such as UL, are working on new technology -virtual wallets, e-identification, and biometric security - to make online transactions safer. But there are also steps that you can take to ensure your online shopping is safe.  Here are five steps you can take to shop safely online:

1. Stick with trusted sites. Instead of plugging your gift selection into Google, go directly to the store from which you want to make your purchase.  Use congregate sites to compare prices, but make sure you go to the retailer's site before you buy.

2. Look for the lock. Never enter your credit car number into a field unless it has the little lock symbol next to it. This lock indicates that it has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed to keep hackers from copying your numbers.  

3. Check your bank and credit card statements. Diligently comb through statements this time of year (and always) to make sure that no extra purchases have been made.

4. Use strong passwords - and change them frequently. Yes, I know it can be hard to keep track of a number of passwords, but think of these characters as the main defense between you and a hacker.  Use symbols in place of letters to create bullet-proof passwords that are easier to remember (eg, turn 'safety' into '$4f3ty.')

5. Don't shop at the library. In general, you should avoid public terminals and wi-fi when shopping online.  Not only are you setting yourself up for online theft, but you are also increasing your risk of getting hacked by the guy at the next table who can read your credit card number right over your shoulder.

For more about the new science of online security, and other safety innovations, check out this PSA from UL:

Related posts on MNN:

The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.