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Traveling for the Holidays? Being Cyber Ready is the Easiest Dish You'll Fix This Year

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

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By Joel Thacker and Tracy Barnes

The good folks at AAA announced this week that 55.4 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more -- in planes, trains and automobiles -- to celebrate Thanksgiving; a figure that includes 1.25 million Hoosiers, who’ll hit the road, take to the skies or ride the rails, beginning today through Sunday.

And whether your plans involve heading somewhere to be with family and friends, or you’re hosting everyone at your place, you’ll want to take just a little bit of time (we’re talking just a few minutes, here and there) to follow a few simple steps to stay cybersafe; tips that’ll help keep your mobile devices secure while, at the same time, protect your personal and financial information, regardless of where you’re at.

After all, cybercriminals, at this time of the year, you might say, are working overtime in an effort to try and steal our identity or gain access to our bank accounts or credit cards, by trying to run up all kinds of fraudulent charges. In fact, according to a report, published in 2021, researchers observed a 70 percent average increase in attempted ransomware attacks in November and December compared to January and February.

Instead, be sure to check out this “tip card” from the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) with what you need to know before you leave, as well as what to keep in mind once you arrive at your destination.

Before You Go:

  • Update your mobile software. Treat your mobile device like your home or work computer. Keep your operating system software and apps updated, which will improve your device’s ability to defend against malware.
  • Back up your information. Back up your contacts, photos, videos and other mobile device data with another device or cloud service.
  • Set up the "find my device feature" on all your devices. This will help you find your phone, tablet or laptop, in case you lose or misplace it, and it might allow you to disable or remove any data from it, if it gets in the wrong hands.
  • Keep it locked. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of locking your device when you are not using it. Even if you only step away for a few minutes, that is enough time for someone to steal or compromise your information. Be sure, too, to use strong PIN codes and passwords.

While You’re Away:

  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks. Open Wi-Fi networks at places such as airports present an opportunity for attackers to intercept sensitive information.
  • Turn off Bluetooth when not in use. Cyber criminals have the capability to pair with your device's open Bluetooth connection and steal personal information.
    • Stop Auto Connecting. Disable remote connectivity and Bluetooth, as some devices will automatically seek and connect to available wireless networks.
    • Be sure to use the same process with your headphones, ear buds, or any entertainment system that you have in your vehicle.
    • This will allow you to disable these features so that you are able to connect wirelessly or with your Bluetooth network – when you want to.
  • Be cautious when charging. Avoid connecting your device to any computer or charging station that you do not control, such as a charging station at an airport terminal, train station, or at a travel center or convenience store.
  • Remember your physical security and be sure that you don’t leave your device unattended in public or any areas that are easily accessible (e.g., taxis, airplanes, and in your hotel room).

For all the fun experiences and memories that are created from being together with one another during the holidays, there’s a lot of stuff that can stress us out (like trying to decide if the homemade sugar cream pie we just baked, using Grandma Alma’s recipe, is as good as the original…).

Fortunately, it’s easier than that, and all we have to do is spend some of our screen time to better protect ourselves whenever we’re online. For more cyber-friendly travel tips, visit the National Cybersecurity Alliance and the Center for Internet Security and, as always, for the latest resources, best practices and more, for all things cyber in the Hoosier State, visit our Indiana Cyber Hub.

Happy Thanksgiving!