Don't let cybercriminals burn up your winter trip

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Before leaving on vacation, check to make sure all Bluetooth connectivity settings are secure.

Quite a few people get scammed while booking travel plans online.

As 2019 draws to a close and expatriates pack their bags and book their tickets to return to their home countries for the winter holiday season, nothing could possibly go wrong - except for a potential cybersecurity attack. Here are eight tips on how to stay protected while you are away on holiday.

Avoid travel booking scams
Quite a few people get scammed while booking travel plans online. Unfortunately, there are many fraudulent websites that lure customers in by using fake domain names similar to those of well-known travel-booking agencies. To keep yourself protected, do your research on different travel booking websites and make sure you are using real and trustworthy websites. A quick check to see if there is a "lock" icon in front of the URL and the website domain doesn't have any unusual letters is a great place to start.

Protect your log-in credentials
Whether checking into a flight, confirming reservations for hotels, or making new reservations with websites you have accounts with, your information can be vulnerable. Sophisticated "forgeries" of popular booking sites are far too common and fool people into surrendering their user names and passwords, which attackers will exploit. A simple technique to avoid falling victim is to use a username and password you know is wrong. If the site accepts it, pretending to log you in, you will know that it is a fake site, and your credentials are still protected.

Be cautious of public Wi-Fi networks
Many airports and local cafes offer free and public Wi-Fi networks for users. These are often tempting to use, especially as a traveller who wants to stay connected online and get some work done. However, these networks are not secure - even if they are paid. Paying to use restricted networks does not necessarily make them safe. Infiltrators have complete and easy access to these open networks, and they are ready to attack at any given moment. For example, be aware of evil twins: attackers can establish rogue Wi-Fi networks with names such as 'Free Wi-Fi'. Be sure to confirm the name of the hotspot before connecting. To stay protected, use a VPN or a private mobile hotspot when browsing the Web on vacation to keep your data secure.

Avoid using public computers
When opting to use a public computer, it is best to refrain from accessing sensitive information, including logging into bank accounts and making online transactions. Assume that all activity on public computers can be seen and recreated by others. Attackers can install keyloggers on public computers, allowing them to recreate any data including log-in credentials and more. Rather than purchasing items online, it is highly recommended to pay for items upfront at the vacation destination. However, if you absolutely need to use the Internet during travel, use your mobile device, which is much safer than a shared computer system. You can also get VPN apps for most mobile devices, so if you need public Wi-Fi as well, your connection will be protected.

Disable Bluetooth access
Bluetooth connections are generally secure, as they typically require confirmation from the person who is pairing the devices together. However, there is a real risk of Bluetooth settings not being configured properly, resulting in cybersecurity dangers. Occasionally, personal devices are set to automatic pairing, giving cybercriminals easy access to devices. This allows them to easily steal data and to infiltrate systems with malware. Before leaving on vacation, check to make sure all Bluetooth connectivity settings are secure. However, the safest option would be turning off Bluetooth networking altogether.

Update and backup devices
Keeping technology software and applications up-to-date is crucial. Outdated software leaves users vulnerable to security breaches because hackers are often able to find security holes. The easiest way to do this is to turn on automatic updates on all your devices. To prepare for the worst, it is suggested to back up all of your information before the trip in the event that files and data go missing.

Pack a portable charger
Bring a portable charger or a personal charging cube along. Avoid using public charging stations as much as possible to keep from falling victim to 'juicejacking'. This crime occurs when hackers trick travellers into charging their devices, while the charger cord actually connects to a hidden computer. The computer then downloads all the information off of the personal device, including important data such as usernames and account numbers. Therefore, it is much safer to bring a personal power source.

Install a privacy screen
Privacy screens 'black out' the sides of devices, ensuring that the only person who can read the screen is the person who is actually using the device. They are inexpensive and provide a very easy solution for prying eyes. They are also much more effective than simply dimming the brightness of the screen. Anyone could be lurking nearby at the airport or at the hotel lobby, so play it safe and get a privacy screen today.
There are many simple and cheap precautions that travellers can take to keep safe while traveling. Don't let attackers ruin vacation or cause worry about cybersecurity issues.

Ashraf Sheet is regional director for the Middle East and Africa at Infoblox. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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