When I came up with this title I thought it just sounded like a funny and alliterative lead-in to talking about cyber parasites that one can pick up while traveling. It turns out there really are human bot flies that pass their larvae through mosquitoes to human hosts. In a disturbing parallel to the way bots work in cyber space, these bot fly larvae grow barbs when they burrow under the human host’s skin to prevent their removal. Gross! The recommendations that follow for safe cyber practices to adopt while vacationing this summer may be a bit tedious, but they don’t require tweezers or other special tools; well, maybe a paper clip or two.
1. Repair screen doors and windows.
The FBI and DHS issued an advisory on 28 May 2018 to all small office home office (SOHO) router owners to reboot (power down) their routers and network-attached storage devices to disrupt possible malware infection. VPNFilter malware has spread through such routers and is used to collect intelligence and exploit networked devices. Be sure to change your password from the default setting and use a strong, unguessable (I recommend at least 12 characters), WPA2 passphrase. This will address gaping holes in your WiFi signal screen, but there may still be lurking vulnerabilities if WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) has been enabled. Although WPS makes it easier for consumer installation and configuration of devices, it also makes it easier for compromise and free membership to a malicious botnet. Note to CenturyLink subscribers: If your leased WiFi router is made by ZyXel, WPS is likely automatically enabled. Mine was!
2. Remove/lock down doggy or other hidden access doors.
Unplug your SOHO WiFi network while you are away to ensure that no one can piggyback or otherwise gain access to your network or devices. I love a low-tech solution!
3. Fix leaks.
Remember that cherished travel photos posted online are information sources about where you are—and where you are not. Think before sharing WTMI (way too much information) WTS (way too soon). Pairing your smartphone to a rental car Bluetooth makes exploring new places easier, but your contact lists and other data may be captured as a trip memory on the car. Consider using a paper map or your phone without connecting to the car. Use your own personal hotspot when connecting to the Internet from a coffee shop, hotel (lobby or room), airport. Trust no one!
4. Pack light, shop—or at least protect—heavy.
If you can leave your mobile devices at home, at least those that store essential business information, and give yourself permission to disconnect. Otherwise, beware of the physical security of your technology tools. The lock on your hotel room is intended to keep other guests out not hotel staff or maintenance contractors. Hotel safes provide some assumed assurance of security, but innkeeper liability is limited (as stated in the back-of-door notices). Keep track of your belongings!
And about those bedbugs and bots . . .
Keep your suitcases off the floor and off the bed. A lovely stay in San Francisco included a surprise visit by voracious bedbugs. Not recommended! As for bot flies, experts recommend wearing protective clothing and using insect repellants where bites are possible: Central and South America.
Enjoy a safe summer vacation and don’t bring parasites (whether animal or technical) back with you!