How to Protect Digital Assets During Holiday Travel and Shopping
The Many Gifts of the Digital Age
Our digital age has delivered gifts we couldn’t even imagine 50 years ago. The brave new world of the internet – that seemingly infinite realm of the World Wide Web – has brought us closer together than we ever could have dreamed possible. We can write an email, thumb a text, post a photo on social media, and send it faster than the speed of light. Whether it goes around the corner, across the country, or over an ocean, we can receive replies instantaneously.
The marvel of the internet has brought the cumulation of the world’s facts to our fingertips. With the click of a button, we have immediate access to untold volumes of information. No longer do we speculate about a question; we can search the internet and learn the answer immediately. No query is too insignificant. No question too profound.
The miracle of digital communication has transformed our lives from beginning to end. It has reshaped our schools and our healthcare. It has transformed how we bank, save and invest. How we execute contracts. How we watch films and sports and otherwise entertain ourselves. It is probably safe to say that there is virtually no aspect of human life that has not been touched by digital transformation.
Securing the Gifts: Keeping Up With Cybercrime
As our digital universe has evolved, so too have laws governing activities in this ethereal universe. Regulations predating the internet now include vital online components, and brand new regulations have arisen to specifically address electronic data security.
Most regulations and regulatory updates occur in response to new varieties of criminal endeavors unique to the digital land of opportunity. Today, gangs who menace city streets and public places have been joined by cybercriminals who roam the websites and software platforms of the digital landscape.
Sometimes the good guys win. One recent example is the case of an international law enforcement collaboration taking down the QakBot malware botnet. QakBot has infected more than 700,000 computers worldwide over the course of 15 years. During that time, its criminal operators extorted at least $8.6 million in illicit cryptocurrency profits from victims and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages worldwide.
Sometimes the bad guys win. The healthcare industry especially can testify to this, as it suffers an almost annual increase in healthcare data breaches. In just three months last year, for example, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) collected $1.9 million in fines from 16 violators of HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules and imposed mandatory corrective action plans including two years of monitoring.
Innumerable federal agencies are tasked with reducing cybercrime and promoting cybersecurity in the United States. Many are responsible for compliance enforcement. These guardians range from the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission, to the HHS Office for Civil Rights and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as several examples.
In addition, industry organizations have established themselves around the objectives of encouraging cybersecurity and facilitating compliance, including the HITRUST Alliance and the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. Still others monitor and report on cybercrime, including the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the Data Breach Investigations Report published annually by Verizon.
Heads Up This Holiday Season
Despite federal regulations, enforcement actions, monitoring, and reporting, the risks are many and the threats are constant in the digital universe. However, individual and collective efforts to secure our digital communications and electronic data have paid dividends, and cybersecurity safeguards are more robust than ever before. And every day, personal vigilance and cybersecurity awareness serve as vital contributors to our cybersecurity programs.
At no time is cybersecurity awareness more important than during the busy, crowded, distracted holiday season. Employees and consumers need to heighten their situational alertness and cybersecurity awareness, especially when traveling or shopping. That’s because cybercriminals take advantage of these occasions and the low-hanging fruit of vulnerabilities they present.
Seven Tips for Securing Your Data and Devices
Following are a few tips and reminders to help keep your information and devices secure throughout the holiday season.
- Back up your data on all devices routinely, and definitely before starting a trip or going shopping. This measure will prevent you from losing data if your device is lost, stolen, or infected with malware.
- While traveling, try to avoid public Wi-Fi networks unless you can use a virtual private network (VPN) to connect. A VPN will encrypt your communications and ensure important additional security. Also, disable auto-connect features and wireless device-to-device sharing.
- Be sure that every device requires a different password, and enable the additional security of multifactor authentication for each device if you haven’t yet done so. Apply these password and authentication safeguards to each application and account you use, as well.
- Enable a firewall on every device possible. Update web browsers and implement strict security settings on each device, especially those you plan to use while traveling.
- When in a crowded area, such as an airport or shopping mall, be aware of where your devices are. Discourage theft by keeping them out of public view whenever possible. Don't leave them sitting on counters or tables, and make sure that your smartphone pocket is deep enough to keep it from slipping out when you sit or stand.
- Stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk through crowds with your eyes focused on your phone screen. Not only does this turn you into a walking traffic hazard—but thieves and opportunists won’t hesitate to take advantage of your distraction to steal your property.
- If you’re a social media fan, avoid oversharing your plans. When traveling, do not post photos or comments about your trip until you’ve returned. This will make your home, office, and other property less vulnerable to theft in your absence.
These tips and other security precautions will help to keep your data and devices secure throughout the holiday season and well into the new year.
The digital age has delivered innumerable gifts to nations, organizations, and individuals over the past several decades. As the digital landscape has matured, a new breed of criminal has evolved to take advantage of the abundant opportunities for online data theft and other cybercrime. In response, federal agencies have been tasked with reducing cybercrime, promoting cybersecurity, enforcing compliance with the growing body of security and privacy regulations, and penalizing those who violate regulations.
Robust cybersecurity is vital throughout the year to protect personal information, intellectual property, and other confidential and sensitive data. However, the holiday season presents abundant special opportunities for cybercriminals. Therefore, it is especially important to secure our data and devices during the holidays with these simple but essential holiday security tips.