FBI Warns Holiday Travelers About The Security Perils Of Free Wi-Fi Hotspots

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With Christmas right around the corner, many Americans are traveling (or about to travel) to spend time with friends and loved ones. And when away from home (or the office), many Americans are tempted to hop onto any available, unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspot with their smartphone, tablet or laptop in order to avoid using previous cellular data. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning Americans about falling into that trap.

As part of its Tech Tuesday column, the FBI's Oregon office is presenting a number of tips to keep your devices safe from potential hackers when traveling. While most of these suggestions are practices that many techies always adhere to for obvious reasons, it would be wise to share the list with friends and family who might not be so vigilant when it comes to their security.

For the utmost security, the FBI recommends that if you're tagging along with a tablet or a laptop that use your smartphone's own secure hotspot to connect to the internet. It's also suggested that if you have friends and family staying over at your house, don't just freely give them access to your secured home Wi-Fi network. Instead, the FBI suggests that you create and give them access to a separate guest Wi-Fi network; just in case their devices present a security threat.

But when it comes to the FBI's most important warnings, it provides the following advice:

  • Don’t allow your phone, computer, tablet, or other devices to auto-connect to a free wireless network while you are away from home. This is an open invitation for bad actors to access your device. They then can load malware, steal your passwords and PINs, or even take remote control of your contacts and camera.
  • If you do need to connect to a public hotspot – such as at an airport or hotel – make sure to confirm the name of the network and the exact login procedures. Your goal is to avoid accidentally connecting to a fraudster’s WiFi that they are trying to make look legit.
  • If you absolutely have to use an unsecured hotspot, avoid doing anything sensitive like accessing your bank account. A hacker would love your user ID and password – don’t give it to them.

Again, a lot of these items are no-brainers to most enthusiasts, but even enthusiasts can be lured by the prospects of "free" and fast internet when on-the-go. 

And for folks that are all over social media, the FBI has this relevant piece of advice for securing your possessions in your home when traveling. "As hard as this may be in a world of oversharing, consider NOT pushing out pictures and posts about your grand adventures," writes Beth Anne Steele of the FBI's Portland office. "Yes, your kids are adorable and Christmas morning was the best ever – but do you really want to tell the world that you are away from home?"

It's sound advice, and something to definitely keep in mind -- especially if you don't have "eyes" on your house with the latest smart gear from companies like Ring and Netgear.

Tags:  WiFi, security, FBI, wi-fi