Spencer Lichtenstein – head of cybersecurity for Newport Beach, California-based Onyx CTS, the private-sector security subsidiary of U.S. intelligence and military contractor Mission Essential – worked in technical roles for the CIA and DOD in counterterrorism, counter-narcotics and foreign intelligence before moving into the private sector as a consultant and risk manager. He offers the following cybersecurity tips for individuals and families traveling internationally this summer:
- Always use a VPN while traveling! There are dozens of excellent VPN services available for very reasonable costs ($50-$100 per year) that provide security and privacy while keeping your internet speeds fast. Good-quality VPNs allow a range of applications – for mobile, tablet, laptop, and desktop – and have a robust server architecture, which means you have a strong network to ensure you remain connected and safe. There are plenty of reasons to also use a VPN when you are back in the U.S., like when you are at a public Wi-Fi hotspot or a coffee shop, so the investment is easy to justify.
- Some other tips to ensure your electronic safety while abroad:
- Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth unless you are using them, especially when in public. These are easy targets for attacks and there is no reason to keep them on if you aren’t using them.
- Avoid accessing sensitive accounts, even on VPNs, when traveling. This includes bank accounts, credit cards or loans/mortgages. Despite the privacy and security of VPNs, it is best-practice to avoid logging into these sensitive accounts when you are overseas, as many unknown factors exist and prying eyes can sometimes circumvent these security products.
- Avoid e-commerce purchases, for many of the same reasons as above. If it isn’t really necessary, wait until you are back home to make these purchases.
- Use a single travel credit card for all your transactions overseas. ATMs are ripe with electronic fraud in many overseas countries. Relying on a trusted travel credit card will help reduce fraud and keep your banking data safe.
- Always assume someone else might be listening to your electronic conversations, especially phone calls or videocalls. Just consider what you are saying. Would you care if the local police heard what you were saying? If not, great. If you would, think twice.
Cybercriminals use phishing and spear-phishing emails, URL hijacking, SQL injections, man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, and other methods to acquire personal information, passwords, trade secrets and intellectual property that can be traded or sold on the Dark Web. Sometimes they trick targets into making large wire transfers to fraudulent accounts. With its WatchTower cybersecurity program, Onyx CTS analysts monitor data from laptops, desktops, mobile devices and home networks to protect against cyberattacks, providing email protection, alerting users to any suspicious activity, and monitoring for network tampering. Onyx CTS’ analysts are versed in cyber operations, intelligence collection, military combat, data analysis and executive protection, having served in organizations such as the CIA, Department of Defense, and SEAL Team 6.