It’s the happiest time of the year. It’s also the busiest time of the year. Your life is full of distractions, especially if you’re on the road, or stuck in airports, or browsing shopping malls only a few days before Christmas. Your relatives are waiting for you in a distant city, and you’re anxious about the weather, flight delays, gifts, meal planning, parties, pet-sitters—
Then, out of nowhere, your email is hacked. Your bank account is empty. Someone is impersonating you on social media. You have no idea how this happened. The culprit? Someone you didn’t even see.
You have to be smarter than the hackers. Let’s start with your money. Tap or click here for five critical settings so hackers can’t access your bank accounts.
Hackers are also getting very innovative about how they steal cars. Before you leave your car in the driveway to thwart off the burglars, think like a hacker. Tap or click here for seven clever ways hackers are stealing cars right from under their owner’s nose.
To protect yourself from these clandestine attacks, take a few extra precautions this holiday season.
1. Use the right type of connection
A virtual private network, or VPN, is a powerful tool to protect your online privacy and security. Not only does it conceal the IP address of your computer and keep you anonymous, but it also encrypts the information. So if you’re connected to free public Wi-Fi, let’s say at the airport, the VPN encryption will prevent would-be digital thieves from intercepting your online traffic.
Not sure how a VPN works? Tap or click here to learn all about it, and set up your own personal VPN.
2. Just assume you’re being watched
It’s so convenient, being able to connect to free public Wi-Fi when you’re away from home or the office, right? Sure, but it’s also risky. When you’re on public Wi-Fi, a good rule of thumb is always assume your online activity is being watched. Again, this is why a VPN is essential for your computer - and so is antivirus software. That goes for your smartphone and tablet, too.
Without any protection, jumping on free Wi-Fi can expose your online activity, or worse. Information can be taken from your device, while malware can be added.
Make sure also to verify the legitimacy of public networks. Hackers love to set up fake connections, so be wary of any generic naming conventions, like “bookstore” or “airport Wi-Fi” that can lead you to believe you’re connecting to the real deal. If you’re not sure, head to the source and ask.
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Visit encrypted sites, whenever possible. Websites that begin with https:// is an indication that any data going back and forth from the site is encrypted.
3. Don’t charge up at any outlet you see
By now, you probably see a pattern. Anything with the word “public” that involves your digital data should bring you to pause. That also goes for free public charging stations, which are becoming more and more common, especially in airport terminals. You may have also seen these stations at a hotel, or in the mall. You may even find a charging station inside the plane.
But remember that the cord you use to charge your phone is also a data transfer cable, and those public USB ports could be compromised. Just plugging your phone or tablet into a hacked port could put everything on your device at risk by way of a hacker method called “juice-jacking” or using AT commands.
To avoid the risk, bring your charging cable along with your AC adapter and look for a standard wall outlet. But if a USB port is your only option, at least power down your device to reduce the risk.
4. Disable what you don’t need
If you’re not using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, disable those wireless connections - especially in crowded places. Keeping Wi-Fi active could allow a hacker access to information regarding networks you’ve connected to previously, then set up a fake version with the same name. This could cause your computer, phone or tablet to connect automatically, opening the door to digital theft or attacks. Bluetooth can be vulnerable as well, for example, the BlueBorne attack researchers discovered last year.
This one is less likely, but with the right equipment, someone could spoof GPS signals to your phone and use fake maps, sending you wherever they choose. Now, of course, you wouldn’t be fooled in familiar territory. In a city you don’t know very well, it could present a real problem.
5. Watch where you leave data behind
Suppose you make it through the airport after following the steps above and now you’re heading out to your rental car. You get in and find that it has a full-fledged infotainment system that’s just asking you to connect your phone. No harm there, right? Not if you remember to check things out before returning the car.
The moment you plug your cable into the USB port or connect via Bluetooth, the vehicle has access to a large amount of info stored on your phone. It wants to sync with your phone o it’ll continue to recognize and connect any time you return to the car. For added convenience, it will most likely prompt you to upload your contacts, possibly even call logs and text messages. But don’t allow access to any information unless necessary.
If you do, delete any information the vehicle stored from your phone. Otherwise, anyone who gets in after you return it could potentially gain access to your sensitive data. Double check with the owner’s manual to make sure you’ve followed the correct steps for that specific vehicle to delete your info.
If you don’t want to connect your phone to the car’s infotainment system but still need to charge your phone, use the DC connector instead.
And finally, similar to what was mentioned above, be careful connecting to a Wi-Fi network or USB port you’re unsure about even once you reach your destination. That includes hotels where you may be staying, Airbnbs or other similar rental properties.
Following these easy tips during your trip can keep your private information secure, so you can rest easy and focus on what’s really important this time of year.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.