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How To Protect Your Devices From Cyber Attacks While Traveling

Protect your devices from cyber attacks while traveling.

Audrey F. Henderson

After arriving at the airport and making it through security, a quick check of the time reveals boarding for the flight doesn’t begin for another hour. The airport has a free WiFi network, presenting an ideal opportunity to snap a selfie and post an update to Facebook.

Not so fast. Without ensuring the network connection is legitimate, travelers may set themselves up for identity theft or malware. Identity thieves and other bad actors frequently set up phony hotspots throughout airports with legitimate-sounding names, warns Daniel Plante, Ph.D., a professor of computer science at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and a cybersecurity expert.

“The airport may have put a lot of money into making sure the public WiFi is free, but you don’t know which one is real,” Plante says. “The safest thing to do in an airport is to go to the information booth and [ask] ‘What is the name of your WiFi network?’ There may be other ones [networks] but they’re not the official sites. You can try the other ones, but it’s at your own risk.”

Bluetooth devices represent another risk travelers may not be aware of and should be avoided whenever possible, especially in airports, according to Plante.

“When you’re traveling, if you don’t need it, turn off Bluetooth on your phone; turn off bluetooth on your computer. [Using] a Bluetooth keyboard in a public area, it’s the most trivial thing just to intercept the Bluetooth traffic. It’s not encrypted, and [it’s possible to] just collect everything that the person is typing on their computer,” Plante says. “If you are doing that in a public airport or in any sort of a public space, then at least make sure that you’re not doing anything that would be really sensitive. You know, don’t log into accounts, don’t log into your bank.”

Personal mobile data plans represent a safer albeit more costly alternative to public airport WiFi surfing for both laptops and mobile devices. Many mobile plans allow devices to serve as personal hotspots, with computers tethered to the mobile device via a USB cable. It’s also possible to connect laptops to personal mobile hotspots via password-protected WiFi connections, but that’s less secure than a hardwired connection.

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