by Patricia Frost
Contributing Editor

I am writing this blog from where I find myself spending the majority of my daily quiet reflection time which, unfortunately is not sipping a margarita (for those who know me well) and watching the sunset, but rather is from a cramped airline seat of the friendly skies. For every trip through the airport and flight I have taken, I am amazed and horrified at the lack of privacy protection and cybersecurity that is exhibited by the majority of travelers.  The lack of cyber hygiene grows exponentially during the summer months with the influx of summer travelers.

I have come to realize that we have not grown a generation of security-minded digital natives as is often reported.  Instead, we have a growing society of “app” natives who have little understanding of how to securely operate their devices to include minimal knowledge of the architecture and how data moves through this digital ecosystem that has engulfed our lives.   So, I will share with you a few cyber hygiene practices that everyone should follow. These do not require a cybersecurity professional to execute — just awareness on your part to protect you, your device and your data. 

If we could just recognize that our smartphones, tablets and other devices are full-fledged computers, we might, and that is a big “might”, treat them with the same physical security measures that we apply to our desktop at work or home. Only you can judge what is at risk if your device is physically stolen or compromised.  I can’t answer that for you as everyone stores data differently on their devices; however, there are three things that I wish everyone would take seriously:   First, password protect your device.  Sounds simple but 9 out of 10 seatmates that I have on a plane operate open mobile devices.  Hard to believe – but true.   Second, order a privacy screen for your tablet or laptop. You must protect yourself from “shoulder surfers” in public places and on airplanes, and this is especially important for business executives. Sad to report, but I have yet to be seated next to an executive utilizing a privacy screen, and the information that is visible is not data I would want the general public to have. Lastly, and it is a broken record but not followed, avoid using open Wi-Fi networks to conduct personal business, financial transactions or online purchases. If you simply must check your bank balance or participate in Amazon Prime Day while you are traveling, turn off your device’s Wi-Fi connection and use your mobile device’s cellular data internet connection instead of making the transaction over an unsecure Wi-Fi network.  I also wish everyone would use a virtual private network, but I have learned that is a hard request, so I will be happy with just not using public Wi-Fi networks.  

A few other words of advice on cyber hygiene topics that continue to be abused by the majority of travelers…Please turn off Bluetooth when not in use.  One of the top gifts of 2018 was the Bluetooth-enabled ear pieces which are extremely helpful for business travelers and loved by our teenagers, but when not in use, turn off the Bluetooth setting on your device.  Cyber criminals are extremely capable of pairing to your phone’s open Bluetooth connection when you are not using it and stealing personal information.  

While adjusting your settings, please update the operating system on your device and your apps. My seatmate today had 52 updates required on his device.  I had to ask him why he felt no urgency to keep his device updated. The number sitting on the app icon alone was driving me crazy but he felt — honest answer here — that by applying the updates, his mobile device would run slower and that many of the updates required him to be connected to the internet for which he didn’t have the time. 

My last word of advice…Be cautious when and where you charge your devices.  Many travelers today have thrown away the outlet adaptor to their devices and rely solely on USB cable connection. To make matters worse, many don’t see the threat to connecting a device to a public computer, like a hotel business computer or library computer (teenagers love doing this). Charging your phone this way can permit software running on that computer to interact with your phone in ways that you may not anticipate. As a result, a malicious computer could gain access to your sensitive data or install new software. I would avoid connecting your mobile device to any computer or charging station that you do not control, such as a charging station at an airport terminal.  With advances in technology, power packs are cheap, lightweight and easy to pack. I highly recommend using one and charging devices in the safety of your own home or business. If that seems unrealistic, please use the electrical outlet versus the USB at all times! 

My flight is coming to an end, and if you end up being my lucky seatmate in the future, be forewarned, I will say something if I see a disregard for basic cyber hygiene. I care about you, your data, and your privacy. Safe travels to all of you this summer and enjoy the friendly skies! 

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