Picture the scenario: The holiday season is in full swing and you’re about to travel a long distance to visit loved ones. You’ve caught a serious case of holiday cheer and don’t have a care in the world. Because after all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year … and that goes for hackers, too.
The busy airport is filled with hurried travelers just like you, trying to get from point A to point B. But sometimes, there’s another element waiting inside the terminal, and they’re not there to catch a flight. Instead, they want the sensitive information stored on your digital devices.
So ask yourself, how safe and secure is the information you’re bringing with you? This simple set of tips can keep you from being hacked during your holiday travels.
Use a VPN
This is a big one. A virtual private network, or VPN, is a powerful tool to protect your online privacy and security. Not only does it conceal the IP address of your computer and keep you anonymous, it encrypts the information. So if you’re connected to free public Wi-Fi, let’s say at the airport, the VPN encryption will prevent would-be digital thieves from intercepting your online traffic.
Beware of public Wi-Fi
It’s so convenient, being able to connect to free public Wi-Fi when you’re away from home or the office, right? Sure, but it’s also risky. When you’re on public Wi-Fi, a good rule of thumb is always assume your online activity is being watched. Again, this is why a VPN is important for your computer – and so is antivirus software. That goes for your smartphone and tablet, too. Without any kind of protection, jumping on free Wi-Fi can expose your online activity, or worse. Information can be taken from your device, while malware can be added.
Make sure to also verify the legitimacy of public networks. Hackers love to set up fake connections, so be wary of any generic naming conventions, like “bookstore” or “airport Wi-Fi” that can lead you to believe you’re connecting to the real deal. If you’re not sure, head to the source and ask.
Visit encrypted sites, whenever possible. Websites that begin with https:// is an indication that any data going back and forth from the site is encrypted.
Bonus: What happened to this caller to Kim’s show could happen to all of us. Tap or click here to listen to his story.
Don’t use a public charging station
By now, you’re probably seeing a pattern. Anything with the word “public” that involves your digital data should bring you pause. That also goes for free public charging stations, which are becoming more and more common. Maybe you’ve seen these stations at a hotel, or in the mall. They’ll also be inside the airport terminal, possibly in the plane as well. But remember that the cord you use to charge your phone is also a data transfer cable, and those public USB ports could be compromised. Simply plugging your phone or tablet into a hacked port could put everything on your device at risk by way of a hacker method called “juice-jacking” or using AT commands.
To avoid the risk, bring your charging cable along with your AC adapter and look for a standard wall outlet. But if a USB port is your only option, at least power down your device to reduce the risk.
Turn off GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
If you’re not using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, disable those wireless connections – especially in crowded places. Keeping Wi-Fi active could allow a hacker access to information regarding networks you’ve connected to previously, then set up a fake version with the same name. This could cause your computer, phone or tablet to connect automatically, opening the door to digital theft or attacks. Bluetooth can be vulnerable as well, for example the BlueBorne attack researchers discovered last year.
This one is less likely but with the right equipment, someone could spoof GPS signals to your phone and use fake maps, sending you wherever they choose. Now of course, you wouldn’t be fooled in familiar territory – but in a city you don’t know very well, it could present a real problem.
Watch where you leave data behind
Back to the scenario. You made it through the airport after following the steps above and now you’re heading out to your rental car. You get in and find that it has a full-fledged infotainment system that’s just asking you to connect your phone. No harm there, right? Not if you remember to check things out before returning the car.
The moment you plug your cable into the USB port or connect via Bluetooth, the vehicle has access to a large amount of info stored on your phone. It wants to sync with your phone so it’ll continue to recognize and connect any time you return to the car. For added convenience, it will most likely prompt you to upload your contacts, possibly even call logs and text messages. But don’t allow access to any information unless absolutely necessary. If you do, delete any information the vehicle stored from your phone. Otherwise, anyone who gets in after you return it could potentially gain access to your sensitive information. Double check with the owner’s manual to make sure you’ve followed the correct steps for that specific vehicle to delete your info.
If you don’t want to connect your phone to the car’s infotainment system but still need to charge your phone, use the DC connector instead.
And finally, similar to what was mentioned above, be careful connecting to a Wi-Fi network or USB port you’re unsure about even once you reach your destination. That includes hotels where you may be staying, Airbnbs or other similar rental properties.
Following these easy tips during your trip can keep your private information secure, so you can rest easy and focus on what’s really important this time of year.
Komando on Demand
Kim talks about outsmarting hackers and scammers when you travel. Tap or click below to listen to Komando on Demand.