If you travel for work or pleasure and use your communication devices, you should be aware of hackers. Recent FBI warnings state that hackers could potentially steal personal data from travelers using USB charging stations in airports and other public locales.

When you’re away from home, the settings can be unfamiliar, and your routines are disrupted. It’s hard enough to manage that vulnerability while navigating security checks, arriving at the right gate, or meeting up with your group on time.

When you add cybersecurity concerns, it can be overwhelming. The good news is a little planning can do a lot to protect travelers, according to Randy Rose, Senior Director of Operations and Intelligence at the Center for Internet Security. “You have to be proactive,” he says. “Anyone asking how to prepare before travel is already ahead of most people.”

The FBI and FCC recently warned travelers about juice jacking, a new and surprising threat to many. They warned not to use public charging stations as bad actors could use them to load your phone and other devices with malware.

Though technically possible, the FCC said they have not received any reported instances of juice jacking. The risk was higher years ago when phones immediately attempted to download content after someone plugged it in—today’s phones essentially eliminate the risk, according to James E. Lee, the COO of The Identity Theft Resource Center. 

Other cybersecurity threats happen much more regularly, and those dangers can be heightened during travel—from exposure via public Wi-Fi to “shoulder surfing,” when all a bad actor needs to do is peek at your screen to obtain your sensitive information.

While threats constantly evolve, some simple steps can help protect you from the most common dangers. Here are ways travelers can keep their digital lives safer and still enjoy their trip.

The good news, according to Randy Rose, senior director of operations at the Center for Internet Security, is that there’s no reason to panic. “A few simple steps make it much easier to travel with peace of mind,” he says.

Before you leave, Rose says, update your devices’ operating systems and anti-virus software to ensure you have the latest security patches. Disable any settings that auto-connect to open Wi-Fi networks. And be sure to back up and/or transfer important files and photos to a storage device that is not going to be traveling with you.

When we’re on vacation, our data is most vulnerable when we connect gadgets to the outside world. That’s particularly true, Rose says, when it comes to phones and laptops on open Wi-Fi networks like those found in hotel lobbies and airport terminals, and at major tourist destinations. 

In those scenarios, avoid sensitive transactions like making online purchases or checking bank balances. Or use a virtual private network (VPN) for such transactions. 

Try to avoid Wi-Fi altogether when traveling and instead choose a cell plan that gives you generous data coverage in international destinations.  Other threats to data include phishing attempts sent via text messages, known as “smishing.” Sidestepping that one is easy: Don’t click on links in texts from strangers.

And just to be safe, you might as well use your own cords and charging blocks to juice up your phone on your next layover. Nobody wants to be the first victim at the airport charging station.

What’s a VPN?

Choose a virtual private network (VPN) if you travel frequently. VPNs protect your internet traffic and identity by routing online activity through an encrypted server. Just be aware that the network might slow your browsing experience. 

Spencer-SHE has been providing Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance Guidance since 1980.  The protection of your personal and work data is important to your safety and sense of well-being.  Contact us here to help you to develop and maintain a safe and healthy workforce.