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By Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Strategy and Emergency Communications Bobbie Stempfley
With the holiday season in full swing, many Americans are doing last minute shopping or heading to see family and friends. As the same time, the holiday travel season is a peak period for hackers and thieves to prey on unsuspecting travelers. Vigilance is the key to protecting yourself from identity theft when shopping and traveling.
Identity theft continues to top the Federal Trade Commission’s national ranking of consumer complaints, with American consumers reporting a loss of over $1.6 billion to fraud in 2013. It’s a problem that has been made worse in recent years by the use of unsecured wireless networks at hotels, airports, and other public places, and the infiltration of smartphones through Bluetooth technology.
The Stop.Think.Connect. campaign has some simple tips for you to help protect yourself and your personal information while traveling:
- Password-protect your devices. Everyone tends to be very busy during the holidays and moving a mile a minute. If you put your phone down even for a moment, you give thieves potential access to all of your phone’s sensitive information such as photos, passwords, files, and more. By password-protecting your device, if it falls into the wrong hands, it will be harder for a thief to access your information.
- Downplay your laptop or smartphone. There’s no need to advertise to thieves that you received a new laptop or smartphone as a present. In public, keep your device close to your body and consider non-traditional bags for carrying your laptop.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If you do use your mobile device in a public area, pay attention to the people around you. Take precautions to shield yourself from "shoulder surfers" (i.e., make sure that no one can see you type your passwords or see any sensitive information on your screen).
- Turn Bluetooth off. Cyber criminals have the capability to pair their Bluetooth device with yours to steal personal information. Check your settings to ensure your Bluetooth is turned off when you do not need to use it.
- Be wary of public Wi-Fi networks. Only connect to secure networks, and only use those that ask for a network security key. Checking email or financial accounts or online shopping over an unsecure network provides an easy gateway for hackers to access your information. Also, read the privacy statement to see what that network provider may be collecting from your computer.
- Back up your files. If your portable device is stolen, it’s bad enough that someone else may be able to access your information. In addition, no one wants to lose their holiday vacation pictures or family videos. To avoid losing all of the information on your device, be sure to make a backup of important information and store the backup in a secure location.
Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and each of us has a role to play. For more tips on how to stay safe this holiday season, visit www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.