It's Black Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year. Chances are, if you work in an office, you're using your company-issued PC or laptop to do a little online shopping in advance of the holidays. You're not alone. Of the $116 billion expected to be spent on online retail purchases this year, $39 billion of that will be spent during the holiday season, an increase of 20 percent over last year, according to Jupiter Research. Nearly half of that shopping will be done during work hours; in fact, a recent Bill Me/Ipsos Insight survey revealed that 12 million Americans admitted to shopping online during work-related conference calls!

If you are surfing the web, such shopping might inadvertently take you to web sites loaded with spyware, key loggers, and other malicious software, making your credit or identity information vulnerable to theft and / or creating havoc on your operating system. But by the time your PC is infected with malware or unknown files such as Grinch.exe, it's too late. In fact, every time an employee shops online, they increase their risk, says Brian Gladstein, director of product marketing for Bit9, a leading application control and device control solution provider.

"As we launch into the holiday shopping season, employees will inadvertently expose their company PCs and laptops to potential security threats," Gladstein noted. "It's critical that IT professionals proactively protect their endpoints by stopping unknown software from ever executing."

For example, Gladstein observed that employees are very likely to have vulnerable applications running on their systems, which are easily exploited by the latest attacks. He recently authored a research brief on the top popular vulnerable applications for 2007.

Fortunately there are easy and efficient methods that will help IT professionals guard against these online threats. Gladstein advises a simple five-step approach, including:

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