We’re quickly getting into the summer vacation period — a great time of year.  The FBI issued an alert on May 21st that will help you avoid having your summer vacation ruined by one of the latest criminal schemes.  The FBI alert applies to people traveling abroad but is an important general cautionary alert (see, http://www.fbi.gov; “Malware Installed on Travelers’ Laptops Through Software Updates on Hotel Internet Connections.”)

This latest crime is an electronic version of pickpocketing. It used to be that we just needed to be careful in crowds to avoid pickpockets.  Well, criminals know that travelers are taking laptops along with other items on vacations or business trips.  They’ve come up with a dangerously deceptive way of getting personal identity information without needing to be anywhere near us.

How are they doing this?  The FBI’s been getting complaints from people who have traveled abroad and used hotel connections to the Internet during their trips.  As a traveler accesses the hotel’s Internet connection, a pop-up window appears telling the traveler that a software update is needed.  The message says that the update is a routine one.  As the FBI reports, the phony update uses the name of a type of legitimate software product for which updates are frequently available.

But what gets installed couldn’t be farther from a legitimate software update.  Once the traveler hits the “okay” or “I accept” option, malware gets installed —malware the criminals can use to steal the traveler’s personal information.  What kind of information?  Anything from identity credentials to financial information to log-in passwords.

The FBI is collecting these complaints in order to assess whether a case, or cases, can be referred to an appropriate law enforcement agency.  If you think you’ve already been a victim, you can contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov to file a complaint.

The FBI lists suggestions in the May 21st alert about ways to avoid becoming a victim of this type of crime.  One of their suggestions is to do any software updates before you leave on your trip.  The other is to only install needed updates from the software vendor’s own website.

Review the FBI’s tips before traveling abroad with a laptop.  Let photos and souvenirs be the only lasting memories of a summer vacation abroad —not malware on your laptop.