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3 min read

Holiday Travel: Tips to Safeguard Your Data on the Road

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Holiday travel is officially in full swing. AAA projects 54.3 million Americans will hit the road this week for Thanksgiving. For most individuals, they’ll be getting from point A to point B via planes, trains, and automobiles. These modes of transportation will be rife with congestion and delays, resulting in many travelers using their smartphones, tablets, or laptops to kill time or stay on top of travel alerts.  


Many travelers don’t think twice about accessing free Wi-Fi or utilizing a public charging station, making them prime targets for hackers. Once a hacker has access to your device, they can skim sensitive info including emails, text messages, contacts, banking info, etc.

Even more troubling, they can transfer malware directly to your device effectively taking control to utilize your device for their nefarious schemes.   

To keep your data safe while traveling, follow these tips. 

Be Wary of Free Wi-Fi 

While free Wi-Fi is convenient, it’s also public and unsecured. Before you step foot in an airport, hotel, or restaurant, be sure to turn off your GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth on your mobile device (and laptop, too). This will prevent your device from automatically connecting to a network (or other device nearby) that Is unsecured and potentially has malicious intent.  

If you do need to use free public Wi-Fi (e.g. your mobile data connection is spotty), proceed with caution. Checking the weather for five seconds likely won’t hurt you, but don’t do anything sensitive (e.g. finances or business-related) on an unsecured connection 

You might want to think twice about logging on to in-flight Wi-Fi to finish up that last project before the holidays. Any public Wi-Fi network is vulnerable to spoofing, meaning a hacker could mimic a legitimate network, making their own unsecured network look safe. Logging onto a spoofed network allows hackers to access all of your data. And once a hacker has access to your data, they can easily collect usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information.  

Use a VPN or Hotspot 

When you do need to conduct personal business on the road via public Wi-Fi, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or hotspot to shield your connection and activity from fraudsters who may be lurking. 

A VPN will encrypt your data and scramble your location by changing your IP address. There are several VPNs out there at various price points. CNET has a comprehensive directory so you can find the one that best fits your needs.  


Portable Hotspot 

Source: Best Buy 


Hotspots can be personal or portable. A portable hotspot is a pocket-sized device that gives you a secured individual Wi-Fi connection, while a personal hotspot can be your smartphone or other mobile device. Both Apple and Android have resources that walk users through how to set up their mobile devices as a personal hotspot.  

Only Visit Sites That Start With HTTPS 

When surfing the web, only visit sites that start with “https,” not “http.” The ‘s’ indicates the site is encrypted, which makes your browsing more secure. Sites that start with “http” mean anyone can spy on what you’re doing 

Oftentimes, these sites are vulnerable to “man-in-the-middle attacks” where a hacker is watching and waiting to intercept. Let’s say, you decide to check your bank account before boarding the plane. On your smartphone, you search for your bank’s name and click HTTP://yourbankname. While the site looks like it’s your bank, it’s not. It’s a fake site that was created by a hacker. And now you’ve just handed over your username and password to them.   

Avoid Public Charging Stations 

Nothing induces panic faster than 1% battery life left.  But you know what will hurt more? Using a public charging station. The short-term gratification is nothing compared to the long-term pain once you open that Pandora’s box.  

Plugging your mobile device into a public charging USB port opens the door for hackers. Here, hackers use that same USB connection for charging to transfer malware direct to your device and access your personal data.  

Related Post: Fighting Mobile Ad Fraud in the App Age 

To safely charge your device, use your own USB cable and AC adapter to plug into an outlet. Another option is to carry already charged USB battery packs.  

Shut Down Wireless Service 

When you’re not using a wireless service, like Bluetooth, turn it off.  Bluetooth has a history of vulnerabilities including the BlueBorne Virus, which allowed hackers to take over individuals’ devices.

By having your Bluetooth on in a public place, you’re making it easier for hackers to gain access to your device. When Bluetooth is active, they can see which networks you’ve previously connected with, spoof them, and trick your device into connecting to a fraudulent network. 

Renting a Smart Car? Be Careful of Those, Too 

Anything that can connect to the internet can be hacked, and Wi-Fi enabled cars aren’t exemptMost cars now connect to Bluetooth to play music or make phone calls. But some cars also allow you to connect to Wi-Fi and surf the web.  

As always, be wary when connecting to an unknown network. If it’s a rented car, it’s likely that many people have used the network before you and will continue to afterwards. Anything that you want to be kept private should be done off Wi-Fi.  

Although the chances are slim, this video shows how hackers were able to control a car remotely by infiltrating its digital systems.  

Hackers love holidays, too. With millions of people traveling throughout the season, busy travelers are an easy target. Don’t spend your time off chasing down fraudsters. Be proactive and safeguard your data from the start, so all you’ll have to worry about is whether to indulge in a second slice of pie.   


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