New Brunswick·Opinion

Beware of Wi-Fi use during vacation travel

Staying safe during summer vacation travel used to mean making sure you had enough sunscreen, bug spray, spare clothes and roadside assistance.

Protecting personal information important when using unsecured Wi-Fi

Staying cyber safe is an important part of vacation safety these days. (Shutterstock)

Staying safe during summer vacation travel used to mean making sure you had enough sunscreen, bug spray, spare clothes and roadside assistance. 

But thanks to the growth of cybercrime all over the world, staying safe now means being careful about using Wi-Fi and share information on social media, and keeping your devices updated. 

Social media are hackers' friends

One of the most important things folks can do to stay safe is to limit how much information they share about their travels —  whether coming up or underway — on social media. Criminals will often use this information to try to scam family, friends and co-workers.

With family and friends, they may try to gain access to your email or social media accounts using social engineering tricks such as phishing to send out traveller-in-distress messages. ("Please send a Western Union money transfer. I've been robbed."

Wtih co-workers, particularly those involved with organizational finances, vacation can provide criminals with a chance to try to impersonate you to get fake invoices or wire transfers processed. The FBI estimates billions of dollars have been stolen in recent years from organizations worldwide using clever impersonation scams. 

What about Wi-Fi when travelling?

Everyone should always be careful with what Wi-Fi hotspot they're connecting to. Remember, if it's open Wi-Fi (no username and password) there is a risk someone can snoop at some of your online traffic.

Worse, more and more tools exist to duplicate legitimate hotspots or Wi-Fi in hotels and cafés.

Never do any sensitive transactions (social media, accessing business information or banking) on free Wi-Fi networks unless you're using a virtual private network or VPN tool. A VPN can encrypt your traffic to prevent detailed snooping into your communications.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, even if you're travelling locally, consider turning off your Wi-Fi on your smartphone or tablet when not in use. What many people don't realize is that when Wi-Fi is left on, it's constantly broadcasting all the names of any places you've ever connected to, which can be gathered and then used to figure out where you live and where you frequent. 

Finally, speaking of mobile devices, consider turning off GPS and Bluetooth when you're not using them. First, it'll save your battery and second it can prevent the use of your device to track you, particularly if you have an Android device that already has malware on it. 

Be wary of shared hotel computers

One area I see a lot of folks taking big risks is with using shared computers at hotels, cruise ships and Internet cafés. From a cyber-hygiene perspective, these devices are often highly contaminated and often have devices attached to their keyboards to record keystrokes or have malicious software installed. 

One thing folks should consider doing is making sure their home internet routers are patched and up to date.

If you use Wi-Fi at home and no one is going to be there, consider turning off the Wi-Fi functionality before you travel, so it will be difficult to break into your network while you're away.

If someone is going to be watching your home while you're away, consider setting up a special guest network with a separate Wi-Fi password. If you're not going to do that, consider changing your password when you get back. 

Avoid public charging stations

Be careful where you plug your devices in to charge.

Many hotels and airports now have USB charging for devices, but this can present risks of either infecting or potentially damaging your device if the charging areas have been tampered with.

Always consider bringing a small surge adapter with you when you travel so you can plug your smart devices into it to charge. 

About the Author

David Shipley is the CEO and Co-Founder of Beauceron Security Inc., a New Brunswick-based cybersecurity software firm with clients across North America. David is a certified information security manager and frequently writes and speaks about cybersecurity issues across North America. Over the summer he is exploring a variety of cybersecurity issues in a weekly column for CBC Radio New Brunswick.