Traveling for the Holidays? Be Cyber-Smart While Using Public WiFi

Hackers love the holidays, too. If you're traveling, you might be unaware of their schemes.

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Travel warnings usually mean extra security and long lines. But we have a warning that starts before you even walk into the airport or other public areas while traveling this holiday season.

That's because hackers love the holidays, too and they love to catch you off guard.

However, there are some ways to avoid their tricks.

As with most public places, you'll see a giant list of WiFi options and you might be desperate to sign up for anything to get free access.

Generally speaking, experts say many public WiFi areas are safe but there's definitely vulnerabilities that could get you hacked and get your personal data stolen, like credit card numbers, addresses and bank account information.

If you're looking for WiFi while traveling, data security expert Randy Haba with DKBInnovative shares some tips:

  • You should avoid open public WiFi that doesn't have a password. Make sure the coffee shop or restaurant you're visiting prompts you to enter a password.
  • If a WiFi option asks you for your Google or Facebook credentials -- even an email -- try to avoid it.
  • If you can, invest in a mobile hot spot on your phone or other device. That way any traffic you send or receive is encrypted and no one can see what you do when you're traveling.

Haba explained how these hackers operate. There isn't really a setting you can change on your smartphone, laptop or tablet -- it's about avoiding the vulnerabilities altogether.

"Usually these days it's targeting individuals with a specific goal in mind. So if my goal is to get access to information on your Facebook account, I’m going to specifically ask you to enter your Facebook credentials to get access to gain access to my WiFi access point," he said. "So they’re going to be looking for just targeted demographics, someone who’s willing to give that information to them. It’s not so much that they’re hacking you if you’re giving it to them, it’s just a matter of whether or not you know you’re doing it."

Haba also wants people to be aware of something called "juice hacking", where cyber-criminals tamper with USB charging ports in public areas like airports or cafes in an effort to download malware onto your device.

There have been mixed reports across the country about juice hacking concerns, with some experts advising people avoid them. 

Haba clarified that experiencing issues with juice hacking is unlikely.

"I think since then, most airports have all gone around and checked and swapped out any outlets they found that were messed with or tampered with so I think you’re relatively safe there," Haba said.

Also, if you happen to be shopping online for last minute holiday gifts, pay attention to the icon on the far left side of your URL bar on your browser. Do you see a lock icon there?

Haba said most decent or reputable companies are going to have their website encrypted - or protected - and you'll know that if you see the bright green lock or check mark in the top left corner.

For more information on staying cyber-smart and avoiding becoming a victim of hackers, click here.

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