For travel nurses, the excitement of relocating to unfamiliar surroundings can also bring feelings of anxiety. Travelers want a sense of what to expect when they arrive in a new place. So, our industry publishes thousands of articles full of helpful tips. And they’re usually the same: prepare in advance, research the area, negotiate pay and contracts prior to hitting the road, pack wisely, and so on. It’s all good advice, but we want to discuss cyber security. Although it’s not a topic travel nurses routinely hear about, it’s definitely critical in today’s society. Protecting your information and taking preventative steps to guard against hacking or identity theft are essential measures when exploring new frontiers.
With the Cyber Century Come Cyber Pirates
“A recent spate of ransomware attacks has crippled critical American infrastructure, disrupted major food supply chains and revealed that no firm -- big or small -- is safe from these insidious cyberattacks,” wrote Samara Lynn and Catherine Thorbecke for ABC News. “What often begins as an employee clicking a seemingly innocuous link in their email can result in a crisis that brings multibillion dollar businesses to their knees, stokes geopolitical tensions and has ripple effects throughout the global economy.”
Ransomware strikes have surged over the past year due to a confluence of factors, experts say, including the rise of hard-to-trace cryptocurrency, a work-from-home boom that has resulted in new IT vulnerabilities and a political climate marked by ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Russia -- the nation from which many of these attacks are believed to emanate.
Just yesterday, in fact, we learned that Accenture, one of the largest global consulting firms, had been hit by the LockBit ransomware gang, as CNN reported. The cyber criminals threatened to publish Accenture’s files to the dark web unless the company forked over a hefty ransom. The situation echoes the disastrous digital attacks on Colonial Pipeline in May, which forced its shutdown and led to gas shortages, soaring prices, and consumer panic. Just imagine if that had been water instead of petrol.
How Does This Affect Individuals?
The problem isn’t exclusive to businesses, however. Yes, we the users and consumers are equally impacted by these crimes. It’s our information that gets uploaded into the dark web, a seedy underworld where malefactors buy your data and use it to steal money, access your credit cards, or even rob your identity. Remember the Black Friday panic of 2013? It wasn’t caused by a frenzied scramble to grab the latest gadget. It was the year that Target and other retailers fell victim to cyber criminals.
In the weeks following the breach, Target revealed that the personal information of close to 70 million customers had been compromised, including names, addresses, phone numbers and email accounts. Yet, few other sellers were immune. Hackers also infiltrated the payment systems of Home Depot, Albertsons, Michaels, Neiman Marcus, P.F. Chang’s, SuperValu, Adobe, and others. In fact, by the conclusion of 2014, researchers at the Ponemon Institute estimated that 110 million Americans—about half the adult population of the country—had fallen prey to cyber criminals who exploited allegedly secure systems to expose their victims’ financial, transactional, and personal details.
How Do Cyber Threats Affect Travelers?
According to the Center for Internet Security (CISA), travelers today confront a growing array of cyber security risks: “Whether traveling for business or leisure, travelers face increased cyber targeting and exposure during their trips. Key threats include accidental loss and exposure, financially motivated crime, espionage, and different laws. Key vulnerabilities include the information carried with the traveler, the use of unsecured devices and data, over-sharing information, the greater exposure travelers are subject to, the lack of due diligence, and the traveler’s coworkers, friends, and family.”
Cyber Security Tips for Travel Nurses
The more we travel and access the Internet, the more cyber threats we face. No one is exempt from being compromised by a cyber crime, but you can follow some simple practices to stay safe online when traveling.
Before You Leave
- Update the software in your devices. Keeping your operating system and apps updated increases your device’s ability to defend against malware. Most updates you get notified about are security related, not features related. Companies consistently monitor for vulnerabilities and threats, then release patches to safeguard your system.
- Back up your data. Anything you don’t want to lose should be mirrored to an external storage drive or uploaded into your cloud service (e.g., Google Drive, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, etc.). Examples include contacts, photos, videos, and other mobile data.
- Keep your device locked. Get into the habit of locking your device when you’re not using it. Even if you step away only for a few minutes, it’s enough time for someone to steal or destroy your information. Use strong PINs and passwords.
At Your New Destination
- Don’t auto connect. Disable remote connectivity and Bluetooth. Some devices will automatically seek and access available wireless networks. Bluetooth allows your device to connect with other devices, such as headphones or automobile infotainment systems. Disable these features and connect manually with devices or networks you know.
- Be careful with wireless hotspots. Before you connect to any public hotspot—such as those you see at airports, hotels, train stations, and restaurants—speak to staff members or workers at the location to confirm the name of the network and its login procedures. They will let you know if the network you’re looking at is legitimate.
- Never perform sensitive activities on wireless public networks. Things like online shopping, banking, or sensitive work (think HIPAA) should only be conducted on a secure network. Even your mobile network, overseen by your service provider (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.), offers greater protection than a public hotspot. If the site’s URL doesn’t begin with “https://” you should avoid connecting.
- Think before downloading. Be cautious when downloading files, installing unknown apps, or clicking on links you don’t recognize. Delete suspicious emails or those from unknown sources. Review and understand the details of an application before you load it.
- Guard your mobile device. To prevent theft, unauthorized access, or the loss of sensitive information, never leave your mobile devices unattended in public. You should also keep your devices secured while in taxis, at airports, on airplanes, and in your hotel room.
- Maybe skip using publicly accessible computers. Hotel business centers, libraries, and cyber cafes provide computers that anyone can use. And by anyone, we also mean cyber criminals. Travelers should never blindly trust that these computers are secure. They may not be running the latest operating systems or have current antivirus software. These systems are breeding grounds for cyber attacks, where hackers can infect the machines with viruses or malicious software.
Stay Safe Out There
For nurses who crave adventure, professional development, and a chance to collaborate with new colleagues, traveling is the answer to that call. The need for nurses across the country cannot be understated. But regardless of urgency or a yearning to expand your horizons and experiences, safety should always be the first priority. Cyber attacks are increasing at alarming rates. Protect your information just as you protect that of your patients.
Oloop wants to help travel nurses reach their goals. Our team is passionate about relationships and teaming with nurses as trusted partners, not headhunters. We are consistently forging relationships with leading hospitals and healthcare organizations. That means opportunities for travelers abound. But at our core, we believe in the same mission as you—saving lives and restoring the nation’s health. We are devoted to supporting our nurses through every step of their journey while placing them in roles that are personally rewarding and professionally enriching. Every company will claim to be different. We simply adhere to values that we hold dear: inclusion, a culture of caring, advocacy, and helping America’s nurses thrive.