Scammers in a Wi-Fi Wonderland

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry—you’d better not use that public Wi-Fi. The holiday season is upon us and in addition to more flash sales, baked goods, and travel time—this means more online scams. A recent survey of American travelers revealed that the majority of us are not taking measures to protect ourselves when using public Wi-Fi. Numerous forms of malware can be delivered over unsecured connections, so when traveling for the holidays you’re more vulnerable than ever to a cyber break in. That’s why on the road, in the air, or otherwise on the go this holiday season, it’s more important than ever that you watch where you connect.

Earlier this month, travel research firm PhoCusWright released their findings in a survey of more than 2,200 American travelers and their Internet usage habits while on the go. The results? Despite being well aware of the dangers of using public Wi-Fi (4 out of 5 respondents felt their personal information was not safe when on a public network), 84% of those surveyed said they do not take any actions to make sure their data is secure while using public Wi-Fi connections.

More than half of respondents said that they avoid engaging in activities that involve personal information, such as online banking, making a purchase, or using a site that requires them to enter a password. While 54% is certainly better than nothing, this is something I’d consider a “glass half empty” scenario.

The study also found that smartphone and tablet users are 3 times more likely to use public Wi-Fi than laptop users. When using a mobile device, it’s easy to feel invincible. We’re so used to browsing at will via our data plans that we oftentimes neglect proper security measures when sitting in a hotel lobby or airport and connected to public Wi-Fi.

Connecting to the Web over a public connection can expose you to identity theft in more ways than one, especially during the holiday season when scammers are most active. Cybercriminals can intercept login information (user names and passwords), credit card information, and more—depending on what you’re doing online. When equipped with the right tools, cybercriminals can even use this information to lock you out of your own devices, as I wrote about last month.

Regardless of the devices or apps you’re using, it is extremely important to take proper security measures when using a public or free connection. Connecting to an unsecure network means carelessly opening your digital and physical self up to hackers, scammers, and all kinds of malicious malware. Below are some tips for using the Internet while traveling this holiday season:

  • Turn off Wi-Fi on mobile devices and tablets. To avoid accidentally connecting to an open network on your mobile device or tablet, turn off the Wi-Fi when in a public location such as an airport, hotel, or coffee shop. Relying on your data plan in these places is a much more secure solution. Turning off Wi-Fi will also save your battery life, as your device will not be constantly searching for available networks.
  • Use multiple passwords and manage them correctly. In the event that a cybercriminal does gain access to one of your accounts, it’s important to have unique passwords for each of them, so that he doesn’t start playing a guessing game with more vital accounts such as your email or bank. Create original passwords for each of your accounts using a combination of capital and lower case letters, special characters, and numbers. To help manage these passwords, consider using a password management tool like the one included with McAfee LiveSafe™ service.
  • Save sensitive transactions for later. Online banking and shopping can wait. Be sure to avoid conducting sensitive transactions while you’re connected to a public network. These types of activities are more secure on a private connection or data plan.
  • Make sure websites you’re visiting are secure. If you will be connecting to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, make sure that the URL shows “https” at the beginning. This will ensure that all communication and login details will be sent via a secure channel.
  • Avoid using instant messaging apps. Skype, WhatsApp, and other instant messaging services may be using local hotspots without you realizing it. If your device is connected to one of these unsecured hotspots, hackers can access the information you’re transmitting and even eavesdrop on your voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) conversations when you are using the Internet as your phone service.
  • Protect all of your devices with comprehensive security software. McAfee LiveSafe will protect your data, passwords, and identity from prying eyes. It works across smartphones, tablets, PCs, and Macs—so no matter what device you’re traveling with this holiday season, you can rest assured that no cyber Scrooges will tamper with you and your loved ones.

When traveling this holiday season, be careful where you connect. The holidays are a busy time for you, and a busy time for scammers. To stay up to date on the latest consumer security threats, follow @McAfeeConsumer on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

Gary Davis

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