Take steps to prevent cyber threats when traveling, expert says

Posted at 11:46 AM, Jun 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-18 15:28:31-04

With another summer travel season under way, Americans are becoming more vulnerable than ever to cyber threats.

Without the proper precautions, you are likely to become the prey of hackers eager to steal personal and financial information while you are on vacation thousands of miles away from home this summer.

But travelers can take some simple steps to reduce the risks, which is why technologist Ann Spire, president of CMIT Solutions of Brandon visited the ABC Action News studios Saturday to share more on how consumers and business travels can keep their digital data safe as they head overseas.


1. Don't Use Bluetooth: One area of vulnerability while traveling comes by connecting to Bluetooth, for example, when renting a car. When your Bluetooth is active, hackers can see the networks you've connected to previously, mimic them and then fool your device into connecting to their Bluetooth devices. Once they are connected, they can put malware onto your device, then steal data or spy on you.

2. Use a Disposable Phone: Right now, the leading American cell providers share a signaling system that allows a phone to roam among different countries. To provide this service, international agreements state that cell providers have to supply details of subscribers (name, contact information, subscription plan and cell tower) at the request of another provider. Because of this agreement, people who have access to this signaling system can easily hack your phone.

3. Set-up Remote Security for your Devices: Set-up software that can track, remotely lock and remotely lock your devices in the event that they are lost or stolen.

4. Use a Travel Debit Card or Prepaid Card: To protect your bank accounts, avoid bringing your valuable credit and debit cards. Use a prepaid debit card to access your bank accounts while you are traveling abroad.

5. Avoid Using Shared Networks: (Beware of free WiFi in internet cafes and airports)  Seek out a hotel or venue that has a secured wi-fi connection before you log on to the internet (if there is no password to log on to Wi-Fi than head elsewhere). Starbucks is a playground for hackers.

6. Use a Virtual Private Network:  Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an option that many consumers may not be aware of that will keep them safe over Wi-Fi. A VPN allows users to create a secure connection over a public network, adding a layer of security. In addition to the security and privacy aspects a VPN provides, you can also search the Internet without worrying who is seeing or tracking your movement online.

7. Send your bank your travel itinerary  It is important to make your bank aware of where you are headed so that they can track any suspicious activity on your account. This is also a great way to keep your bank from suspending use of your debit or credit card for abnormal activity (i.e. - making purchases far away from home).

8. Use Encrypted Mobile Apps:  Download apps such as ProtonMail that secure email messages or Signal, Threema and Wickr Me, which are popular private messaging apps. There are also apps that allow users to obscure, encrypt and destroy pixels in images for more secure photo-sharing.

9. Lock Your Devices:  This is a no brainer. However, it's shocking how many people do not lock their devices using a secure password. Lock your computer and mobile device when you are not using them. Ann recommends doing so to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to your computer's hard disk and critical business data.

10. Download find My iPhone/iPad/Mac: In the event that your device is lost or stolen, enable Find My iPhone/iPad/Mac to locate your device. Along those lines, do not leave your devices unattended in a public place. Don't ask strangers to watch your laptop while you run to the bathroom.