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Why travellers are a target for cybercrime

More South Africans prefer to do their festive shopping online, but this spike in online shopping marks ideal hunting ground for cyber-criminals. File Photo: IOL

More South Africans prefer to do their festive shopping online, but this spike in online shopping marks ideal hunting ground for cyber-criminals. File Photo: IOL

Published Apr 22, 2022

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Let’s face it, many of us spend a lot of time online whether it may be for work purposes or for social. Hence, the more time we spend online, the more we are at risk of being targeted by cybercriminals.

You may have heard about cybercriminals through the grapevines or even fallen victim to the crime. Cybercriminals refers to someone who engages in illegal activity via the internet.

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According to a report in BusinessTech, Trend Micro’s biannual cybersecurity statistics find that South Africa is “a playground for cybersecurity criminals”. It furthermore states that the country ranks in the top 30 most-targeted countries for malware attacks and top 20 for Covid-19-related email threats.

And did you know that the threat is even greater when you travel?

Imagine this scenario: Your company sends you overseas to complete a project. During your stay, you use your company business card at an ATM – nothing unusual about that. But, once you return home, your employer notices massive cash withdrawals from the bank – withdrawals you’re at a loss to explain.

Reported by the National Cybersecurity Alliance, the incident saw the 10-man consultancy lose a total of $15 000 (about R229 000) – the business’s entire cash reserve – after the credit card details were recorded by a skimmer device that criminals had installed on the ATM used by the employee.

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“This incident showed just how devastating the effects of cybercrime can be,” said Bonnie Smith, general manager FCM Travel.

“And it’s just one example of a cyberattack. There are so many more ways criminals can target travellers – so it’s important to be aware while you’re out on the road. Don’t let your guard slip, which is often challenging when you’re focused on meetings, exploring new places or enjoying your trip,’’ she continues.

According to a study conducted by IEEE Innovation At Work, the travel and transportation industry was the second most targeted industry for cybercriminals in 2018. The same study reports that one in seven travellers has fallen victim to information theft.

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Why are travellers such soft targets?

One reason may be their nonchalant attitude. A somewhat concerning report by IBM shows that although 40% of travellers acknowledge that they could be at risk of cybercrime, only 30% guard against the threat.

Smith points out that travel leaves people in a highly vulnerable position. For a start, travellers typically have, out of necessity, a large volume of valuable data on their person, from their passports to travel itineraries and payment information.

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All of this is gold for the cybercriminal who can sell the information or use it for identity theft or phishing attacks.

South Africa has the third-highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide, the A Banking Risk Information Centre revealed. Picture: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

When you’re feeling tired after a long trip, it’s normal to opt for the quickest connectivity solution – like public wi-fi – to download a mail or make a fast transaction instead of opting for the safest option.

How to avoid a cyberattack

Take action before leaving home, like brushing up on your rights and local laws. This is important because different countries may exert different rights to your data. For example, border guards may ask to see the contents of your laptop, and if you know that this is likely, you can plan ahead.

Change all your frequently used passwords. You may even wish to set up a temporary email account if you know that you’re likely to use a public computer.

If your personal data is stored on the cloud, consider deleting the local copy from your laptop and disabling the sync feature. While you’re at it, download software that encrypts information and protects copied data.

Pay any bills that may fall due while you are away. If you foresee the need to download software, do so before you leave.

Disable the auto-connect function on your phone – connecting to the Internet manually for a few days isn’t much of a hassle, especially if it keeps your data safe. You should disable Bluetooth connectivity, too.

Refrain from plugging into the public wI-fI network. Instead, set up a wi-fi hot spot on your phone and encrypt your data using a virtual private network (VPN).

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, keep your device on you at all times. It sounds obvious, especially for crime-wary South Africans, but a request to borrow your phone or tablet for one second may not be quite as innocent as it seems.

Use public equipment with care, and exercise caution if you need to charge your USB in public. If you need to charge, a good tip is to switch off your device before plugging it into a charging station. Finally, if you have been asked by border guards to screen your device, treat it as if it has been compromised.

“It’s important to stay alert and aware when you’re travelling. This is always good advice, and now in terms of cybercrime too. Follow the tips and advice shared above, and chat to your travel expert about any destination-specific alerts or information,” Smith concludes.

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