It’s that time of year again. We’re overtaxing our cellphone batteries on the readily available plethora of free public WiFi hotspots while traveling and shopping for the holidays. As we rush around frazzled and distracted, we are easy prey for cyber attackers who are paying acute attention and waiting for us to slip up. Here are five critical things to check to keep your devices and data protected as you partake in this season’s festivities.
UPDATE YOUR APPS
Make sure that all of your systems are running the latest version of applications, up to date with the latest patches, and that they are running antivirus software. Also, take precautions to keep your passwords secure and to lock up your devices anytime that they are not with you. Never leave your computer in an unattended car, especially in tourist areas. A trunk is better than a back seat but is not a guarantee for being secure.
AVOID PUBLIC CHARGING STATIONS
More and more, USB charging stations are being made available at airports or other public places. Unfortunately, these can be a perfect opportunity for a cyberattacker to “juice jack” your data. This occurs as an attacker initiates a data transfer when a cellphone is plugged into the charging station. You can protect yourself by charging your phone directly in a standard electrical wall socket or through portable batteries that you can carry with you. You can also use a USB data blocker, which can prevent data from being exported or malware from being uploaded to your device. It is also strongly advised not to use publicly available or free promotional cables. Be cautious as USB cables can be loaded with malware that can infect your device and read and export your data.
BEWARE OF FREE WIFI
Free WiFi is incredibly tempting; however, be cautious when using it. It is now common for public places to offer free internet services for visitors and customers. Unfortunately, many of these networks are not secure and will allow an attacker to observe what you are doing and to steal your personal information. You will also want to be careful to only connect to known networks as some cybercriminals will set up wireless access points to mimic official sites to collect your information. While using these hotspots, you should assume that everything you do is being watched and is likely being recorded. If you have a VPN client or connection, always use it when accessing a public WiFi hotspot. If you are going to do anything that uses your personal data or credit card information, you should connect to your VPN, use your cellphone connection, or simply wait until you are on a private and secure network.
TURN THESE FUNCTIONS OFF
Do not leave your wireless, Bluetooth, or Airdrop setting on. These are all communication protocols for sending data to a device and, therefore, can be at risk of being hacked. Also, don’t just think about your smartphone, also think about your IoT devices, smartwatches, or jewelry. Keep in mind that any time your Bluetooth is on, information about your battery, device name, WiFi status, and mobile phone number is available for hacking.
GET YOURSELF AN RFID WALLET
RFID chips are increasingly being embedded into credit cards, and passports contain information that is conveyed via radio waves. This allows scanners to pick up the data with touch vs. physical interaction. This pickpocketing attacker could use a remote scanner to steal information from your cards to use for purchases, payments, or other scams. So you may want to invest in an RFID wallet or blocking sleeves to protect against credit card theft. Some may argue that this form of theft isn’t popular. However, it is possible, and with the rise in contactless credit cards and smart passports, these concerns have increased. Some newer credit cards will also reduce this risk by using NFD or EMV chips. These come typically come with extra security with a pin or unique transaction code signals and require the scanner to be closer to work.
The holiday spirit can quickly be squashed if your credit card or personal information gets stolen. By taking these additional precautions, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim and still enjoy the conveniences of connectivity. Consider gifting protective tech gadgets for the holidays to keep others safe, too.