Heading Home for The Holidays? Watch Out for Holiday Hackers.

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Lots of people travel during the holidays. Your trip could be around the world or just across town. In either case, you don’t want the headaches of lost personal data to hound you on your journey.

Rental cars, airport documents, and even browsing your phone at the departure gate can present data risks you don’t routinely encounter, so it’s best to be on guard.

Airport WiFi Too Hot to Handle? 

Unless you have an unlimited data plan for your mobile device, it can be tempting to log in to an airport’s free WiFi. But, how do you know it is really hosted by the airport, and is it really free?

People waiting for transportation are often bored and eager for entertainment. That can make travelers vulnerable as a hacker could set up a hotspot nearly anywhere; from airports and hotels to train or bus stations. They are clever in giving the fraudulent hotspot a name relevant to its location and highlighting “free” services. Then the hackers sit back and wait for unsuspecting WiFi users to connect.

The national Better Business Bureau has long warned of these dangers. So has the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If you log into an unsecured hotspot with no password, you could open your entire computer to the hacker. Instead, try this:

  • Set your devices to ask before joining nearby WiFi options.
  • Set up a private hotspot if possible. Your cell phone can share its data with your tablet or laptop; no one else can access your network without your password.
  • Always use passwords on your devices.
  • If you must try free WiFi, install a reliable virtual private network (VPN) option on your device to protect you and your surfing from unwanted eyes.
  • Never do banking or other financial work on your device unless you know the network is secure.

Additional Tips for Using Public WiFi Networks are provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Don’t Get Jacked

Is your smartphone running low on power? Think twice before charging your phone in a public port or outlet at the airport, rental car office, or anywhere else you may have to spend some time while waiting to complete your holiday journey. Connecting to an unknown port could get you juice jacked. Jacking is the name for what happens when “free” charging stations or plugs have been compromised. Once you plug in, data could start flowing into or out of your phone without your knowledge.

Rental Car Snoops

Hands-free driving. Voice-activated dialing. What’s not to love about connecting your phone to that rental car? Here’s the problem: to use voice prompts, the vehicle needs to download your contacts—all of your contacts. Your data is not the holiday gift you want to leave behind for someone else to access. Delete your device from the rental’s records before you surrender it. The settings menu of the car’s infotainment system should provide prompts on how to delete your data. If you have issues, check the owner’s manual or ask the rental car company to walk you through the steps.

The Federal Trade Commission offers some additional advice on protecting your personal information when using a rental car:

  • Use the vehicle’s cigarette lighter to charge your mobile devices rather than the USB port to avoid transferring data.
  • If prompted, limit the permissions you give the car’s infotainment system. For instance, you can allow it to access your music files without giving away your contacts.

Gas Pump Skimmers

If driving is part of your holiday season, keep in mind that where you fill your tank matters. Gas pump data skimmers are a growing threat and the technology is getting smaller and even harder to detect. Hackers can’t wait to skim off your credit or debit card data and run up some bills while you drive down the road.

One way to skip this holiday headache is by paying inside the store. Also, paying with a credit card rather than a debit card can be a better choice since it wouldn’t put your checking account balance in jeopardy if your information is skimmed. Having your debit card number and PIN stolen, then learning your bank account has been drained, could certainly dampen anyone’s holiday spirit.

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