Considered by many as the greatest sporting event in the world, the 2018 World Cup in Russia, may be missing some traditional participants this year, including Italy, Netherlands, Chile, and the United States but, what it won’t be lacking is a host of cyber criminals looking to steal sensitive personal information from unwary participants and the masses of fans who have traveled to watch them compete.

Even though media, government organizations, and soccer organizations have made cyber security concerns a key issue, it’s certain hackers are looking to exploit the fact that hundreds of thousands of fans are looking for connectivity during the 21st edition of the quadrennial event. Given the global presence at the World Cup and high international data rates with most carriers, a large percentage of fans rely on WiFi for connectivity. Even for those with international plans, mobile networks are put to the test and deliver reduced performance, sending even those users looking for WiFi access.

Kaspersky Labs reported it tested the security of more than 32,000 public access points recently in Russia’s 11 host cities – more than 7,000 were not using appropriate encryption or authentication measures. Meaning, while there are many secure WiFi connections, there are many that can be targeted by hackers as easy opportunities to steal personal information from users.  All they would need to do is be in the vicinity of those hotspots, wait for unprepared visitors to connect, and easily intercept traffic to collect data.

Fans and participants alike should be aware of the presence of unsecure access points and take extra care to avoid them. Many of them may have SSIDs set up to fool users into believing they are legitimate networks. Some organizations, like England’s FA, have specifically advised players, coaches, and staff not to use public WiFi, even those provided at the team’s hotel. Here are a few tips that can help protect your devices and data while traveling at the World Cup, or anywhere.

  • Never use open WiFi (those without password protected access).
  • Consider connecting through a VPN if you are using WiFi. Most public access points aren’t using the latest encryption technology. A VPN will help protect your information even if it is intercepted.
  • Make sure lock screens and security are active on any devices.
  • Avoid any online shopping or other financial activity.
  • Use cash, travelers checks, or gift cards in lieu of credit cards to avoid account information being stolen.
  • Don’t use, accept or click on links, websites, attachments, or flash drives that could give hackers access to your devices.

While there’s a lot that individual users can do to protect themselves, financial institutions and other vendors should be aware of the likelihood that user information will be stolen, not only at major events, but at any time. They, too, should be prepared by making sure they have appropriate user authentication measures in place. Because PINs, passwords, and knowledge-based responses can all be exposed to hackers, biometric security measures, like voice authentication, can make it much harder for thieves to gain access to accounts or set up fraudulent accounts. With the massive numbers of attack opportunities for cyber criminals, security has to be a priority for everyone – vendors and customers alike – in order to limit risk and losses.

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