Everyone knows the struggles that come with holiday travel — busy airports, crowded cities and confusing navigation. What people may not realize is just how easy it is for your information to get stolen by cybercriminals while away from home. In fact, recent studies have shown that travelers are considered the most vulnerable group to getting hacked.
How Your Personal Information Can Be Stolen
Our ever-evolving digital age has made everyday life a lot more convenient. That said, better technology doesn't mean better security. If anything, it's made security matters worse by creating more opportunities for hackers to become quicker and more efficient when stealing or manipulating your information.
One of the easiest ways hackers are able to steal information while on the go is quickly growing in popularity: radio-frequency hacking. While a rising threat to cybersecurity, widespread concern for this type of cyber attack is still low, making travelers more vulnerable.
What is RF Hacking and Why Are Travelers at Risk?
RF attacks target devices with radio communication systems that transmit and receive data using radio waves. This includes all devices that access cellular networks, from the first generation (1G) to the current 5G spectrum, as well as WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC and more. With wired networks, signals can be tracked so network connections are evident. Radio frequencies, however, transmit signals wirelessly. Unapproved devices can easily sidestep firewalls and network-based detection systems to connect to other devices within 250 feet.
Once an RF hacker has tuned into your radio-frequency device, it can be wirelessly tethered to the hacker's device. Even when you're not actively using any of these radio communication systems, sensitive data — like online passports, IDs, payment methods and more — can be stolen and stored on an outside server. The most convenient places for RF hackers to steal information include crowded areas with a large wireless footprint: think airports, hotels, downtown areas and tourist attractions.
How to Combat RF Attacks
- Keep your radio communication services turned off when not in use. Autoconnect is not your friend. Turning this feature off and switching off WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, etc., when not in use can mitigate the risk of an RF cyberattack.
- Make use of airplane mode. Turning on airplane mode when you're not using your devices eliminates the risk of hacking through cellular networks.
- Be wary of strangers asking to share information via Bluetooth. If you decide to keep your Bluetooth on to stay connected to your earphones and smartwatch, be vigilant on any connections that may be attempting to get established to your devices.
- Invest in an RF-shielded bag. RF-shielded bags (commonly called Faraday bags) can protect connected devices from RF espionage. They're created with 360-degree, military-grade shielding to block all incoming or outgoing radio signals.
As the world begins to reopen, travel is rising. It can be easy to let your guard down and not think about the cybersecurity risks that come with traveling. While traveling this holiday season, it's important to remember to practice healthy cyber-hygiene.
Daniel DeBaun is a telecommunications expert and author with over 30 years of experience as a telecom engineer executive. He founded DefenderShield in 2011 to promote digital wellness and reduce the harmful effects of technology, including EMFs, blue light and cyberattacks.