FBI Warns Holiday Travelers of Free Wi-Fi

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A lot of people travel for the holidays. Most probably own smartphones. This week, the FBI decided to acknowledge those facts in its Tech Tuesday advice column by warning holiday travelers not to trust every free Wi-Fi network they encounter.

Anyone with even a modicum of security awareness knows that public Wi-Fi networks are risky. There's no guarantee a network is legitimate, and even if it is, hackers can sometimes monitor network traffic by exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Here are the FBI's three most relevant tips for holiday travelers:

  • 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.

But malicious networks aren't the only security risks associated with traveling during the holidays. Visitors can also bring infected devices to family gatherings.Tthe FBI said it's worth considering a separate Wi-Fi network to quarantine those devices.

Finally, the FBI also advised people to disable location services for social networking apps, cameras and other technologies that broadcast where they are. The bureau also took a remarkably casual--and perhaps slightly condescending--tone with this tidbit: 

"Finally, as hard as this may be in a world of oversharing, consider NOT pushing out pictures and posts about your grand adventures. 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?"

So there you have it. The FBI wants holiday travelers to know they shouldn't trust public Wi-Fi networks, that they need to defend their home networks from visitors and that people share too many pictures of their kids.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.