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This summer, my family and I visited a few Arizona ghost towns, and the experience made me wonder what it might have been like to travel across the Old West with all your possessions in tow. What would it feel like to ride through mountains, deserts and territories with only a canvas-covered wagon protecting your valuables? I bet they were keenly aware of the many travel risks and threats. They had to be.

As we zoomed across the same highways, now in an air-conditioned SUV, I couldn’t help but contrast the relative safety and luxuries we enjoy today with the travel conditions then. But while the landscape and comforts have changed, some of the threats and vulnerabilities remain the same.

No, we don’t carry our valuables in a wooden cart, but we do carry digital devices capable of accessing bank accounts and personal information. Smartphones, laptops and IoT devices are portals that can access and direct the most intimate details of our lives. When we travel, we too should be aware of potential risks and take extra precautions to safeguard against them.

As cybersecurity professionals, we often are more informed than the average consumer on the methods malicious actors take to exploit vulnerabilities and compromise data. As a result, I believe we are accountable for educating and informing consumers of potential cybersecurity concerns.

This is especially important this time of year, when millions of Americans will be traveling for summer vacation. AAA reported that a record-breaking nearly 47 million Americans traveled at least 50 miles from their homes for Independence Day. Working in this industry, we are often aware of the potential cybersecurity risks travelers face when away from home.

However, a recent survey by University of Phoenix found that very few travelers consider their cyber safety while on summer vacation despite increased risk that comes from using unsecure public networks.

According to the survey, 83 percent of U.S. adults own and use a smartphone, which increases the surface area cybercriminals can attack.[1] We are in a constant war with malicious actors, yet people cared more about the cost of vacation, their personal safety and the weather than the cyber-safety of their personal devices.

Most professionals in this space probably are not surprised by this apathy toward cybersecurity. The survey further illustrates people’s general indifference: more than two in five U.S. adults (42 percent) said that they would continue to use their devices while on vacation, even if it meant an increased potential risk of being hacked. In fact, while 93 percent of respondents have worries while on vacation, only four percent said they worried about data breaches.

Despite little concern for the protection of their personal information, nearly all vacation-taking mobile device owners (96 percent) said that they would have concerns regarding leaking of information should their mobile devices be hacked while on vacation. Sixty-two percent were afraid of leaked financial information and half said they would not want hackers to access their identifiable information like their Social Security Number.

Norton outlined how public Wi-Fi can pose a risk to travelers. Many may not be aware of unencrypted networks at seemingly safe locations like coffee shops or do not know that hackers can exploit weaknesses in software to inject malware. And few probably think to look for rogue, malicious Wi-Fi hotspots that are designed to resemble trusted networks.

Uninformed travelers can avoid potential pitfalls if they are properly educated on cybersecurity best practices. If you know someone who is traveling, take time to inform them of potential risks. Norton also provided a “Do” and “Don’t” section that people can follow when on public Wi-Fi. I suggest teaching them the acronym “RISK” as an easy-to-remember practice to limit data breaches.

R – Run Updates. Phones are programmed to send alerts when software updates are available. Many people delay or ignore these notifications, but they often include security patches to protect against known breaches. Delaying or ignoring updates can leave devices more vulnerable to attacks.

I – Initiate Connections. Avoid automatically connecting to Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth connections and GPS tracking. These are great connectivity tools, but when not using them, turn them off. Hackers can create hotspots that spoof Wi-Fi networks.

S – Simplify Browsing. Avoid visiting unfamiliar sites and downloading questionable content. If accessing bank or financial information, try to avoid using public Wi-Fi connections.

K – Keep Passwords Secure. Safeguard passwords by updating them regularly, diversifying them across accounts, and increasing complexity.


About the Author: Sterling Kellis is the Assistant Dean of Technology for the College of Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.

[1] This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix on June 19 – 21, 2018 among 2,015 US adults aged 18 and older. Figures for gender, age, race/ethnicity, household income, investable assets, education, household size, employment status, marital status, and region were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.