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Travel season is here: 7 tips and tricks from a tech and traveling pro



Travel season is here: 7 tips and tricks from a tech and traveling pro

I’ve been to 32 different countries, and let me tell you, travel can be stressful. But a little know-how and planning can make your getaway more relaxing than worrisome. 

We’re giving away a $799 iPhone 15. Enter to win now!

Stick to sites you know and trust


Crooks are great at creating fake travel apps and sites to rip you off — and AI tools make it even easier to whip them up. Fortunately, there are signs to watch for that can help you avoid them.

  • Check official resources: The Better Business Bureau can be a great aid in determining whether a business is legit. The agency lists real companies; if you can’t find the one you’re working with, it’s best to run away.
  • Online reviews and ratings: Read online reviews and ratings on sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp or Google. Incredibly positive and negative reviews could be bogus. Watch for a balance of reviews and consistent themes.
  • Accreditation and licensing: Many legitimate travel agencies are members of recognized industry organizations like the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) or have IATA (International Air Transport Association) accreditation. Check for credentials on their site.
  • Transparent pricing: Legitimate sites are clear and upfront about all costs. Beware of sites that have hidden fees or don’t clearly explain costs.
  • Secure payment options: Reputable travel sites offer secure, well-known payment options. Be wary of sites that only allow bank transfers or money orders.

Speaking of, I recently took a fantastic trip to Japan. Watch my travel tips on YouTube. You’ll definitely want to put this on your bucket list!

Keep track of your bag

Lost luggage can ruin your trip. Many major airlines (including United, American, Delta and Air New Zealand) allow you to track your luggage in real time through the airline’s official app, so download it before you hit the road.

Travelers with luggage use smartphones while waiting in line for boarding at an airport. (iStock)

Pro tip: Searching the app stores can lead you to copycats. Go to your airline’s official website and look for a link to the app in the header or footer.

I throw an Apple AirTag in checked bags for extra peace of mind.

  • Apple’s AirTags are ideal for an iPhone, Mac or iPad.
  • The Tile Essentials 4-pack comes with various tags for your keys, wallet, luggage or whatever else you want to try. Nice option for Android.

Set your Gmail and Drive to offline mode.

Sometimes, the connection is so bad you can’t even load your inbox. Lucky you, you can still get your replies all queued up if you plan.

In Gmail on your desktop:

  • Hit the settings cog > See all settings.
  • Choose the Offline tab, then check the box next to Enable offline mail.
  • From here, choose how many days of messages you want to sync.
  • Click Save changes.


Now, do the same for your most-used documents in Google Drive. You need to do this for each document, so be sure to take care of it ahead of time.

First, enable the setting:

  • Open Google Drive.
  • At the top right, click the settings cog > Settings.
  • Turn on Offline.

Depending on your storage, recent files will be automatically saved offline. To manually select files:

  • On the file you want to use, hit File > Make available offline.

Score, in-flight Wi-Fi! Before you start browsing …

Most of us see a network name that looks about right and click it without much thought. That’s what hackers are banking on! Crooks can create fake Wi-Fi networks with almost identical names to the airline’s. If you’re not careful, you could plug into a copycat network instead of the legit one.


If multiple options look similar, ask a member of the airline staff which network is the right one. Hey, they may even give an in-air PSA if you spot a fake.

A Wi-Fi sign on a Delta Air Lines plane

A Wi-Fi and fasten seat belts sign illuminated on a Delta Air Lines plane at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) in Morrisville, North Carolina, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Oh, and switch on a VPN

Normally, what you do on the internet is open for anyone with the right know-how to peek in on. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts your data — acting as a shield from prying eyes. VPNs aren’t quite as reliable in the air, but it’s still worth switching on. 

Not optional if you’re visiting any site that contains financial or other identifying, important information.

Double-check your AirDrop settings


I got a strange picture sent to my phone at the airport once. I looked around and saw the snickering teenagers. Yeah, it was funny — but not every prank is innocent.

Keyloggers keep track of every single thing you type, and criminals love to pass them along using Apple’s AirDrop feature. Don’t accept drops from strangers in flight. 

On your iPhone: 

  • Go to Settings > General > AirDrop.


You can set your phone to reject all AirDrop requests, only allow them from contacts or allow from everyone. (That last one is not the best idea for travel.)

On a Mac:

  • Click Control Center in the menu bar (it’s the icon with two toggles).
  • Click AirDrop. From here, you can turn it on or off and choose who can send items.

Your phone is worth a lot

It’s way more valuable than just the amount someone could sell it for. (Though that’s a pretty enticing amount if you have a newer phone.)  Think about all the accounts connected to it: your bank and other financial apps, email inbox and private text messages containing who knows what.

  • When you’re out in public, shield your PIN. If you really need to open your phone in front of people, use Face ID or your fingerprint.
  • Don’t use an easy PIN, either. No four digits! Make it as long as you can remember.
  • If you don’t want to use Face ID, use a passcode with numbers and letters if your phone allows it.
smartphone apple

A view of someone charging their phone in a public area. (Fox News)

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Snapchat AI turns prompts into new lens



Snapchat AI turns prompts into new lens

Snapchat offered an early look at its upcoming on-device AI model capable of transforming a user’s surroundings with augmented reality (AR). The new model will eventually let creators turn a text prompt into a custom lens — potentially opening the door for some wild looks to try on and send to friends.

You can see how this might look in the GIF below, which shows a person’s clothing and background transforming in real-time based on the prompt “50s sci-fi film.” Users will start seeing lenses using this new model in the coming months, while creators can start making lenses with the model by the end of this year, according to TechCrunch.

Additionally, Snapchat is rolling out a suite of new AI tools that could make it easier for creators to make custom augmented reality (AR) effects. Some of the tools now available with the latest Lens Studio update include new face effects that let creators write a prompt or upload an image to create a custom lens that completely transforms a user’s face.

The suite also includes a feature, called Immersive ML, that applies a “realistic transformation over the user’s face, body, and surroundings in real time.” Other AI tools coming to Lens Studio allow lens creators to generate 3D assets based on a text or image prompt, create face masks and textures, as well as make 3D character heads that mimic a user’s expression.

This is Snapchat’s “Immersive ML” effect using the prompt “Matisse Style Painting.”
Image: Snapchat
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FBI busts alleged mastermind behind massive network of hijacked devices



FBI busts alleged mastermind behind massive network of hijacked devices

An international law enforcement operation led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) has disrupted a botnet known as 911 S5, which exploited free VPNs to facilitate various cybercrimes, including fraud, harassment and child exploitation.

YunHe Wang, 35, a citizen of China as well as St. Kitts and Nevis, was arrested on May 24 for allegedly creating and running this whole botnet scheme. The feds say he used malware to infect millions of personal Windows computers around the world, building a network with more than 19 million unique IP addresses.


Cybercriminal at work (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

The impact of the botnet scheme

Wang allegedly created a system that allowed cybercriminals to mask their identities and commit crimes. He did that by creating and disseminating a botnet called 911 S5 to compromise and amass a network of millions of residential Windows computers worldwide from 2014 through July 2022, according to the DOJ. These devices were associated with more than 19 million unique IP addresses, including 613,841 IP addresses located in the U.S.


FBI Director Christopher Wray called 911 S5 the world’s largest botnet. It lets cybercriminals bypass financial fraud detection systems and steal billions of dollars from banks, credit card companies and federal lending programs. The government estimates that 560,000 fake unemployment insurance claims came from compromised internet addresses, leading to over $5.9 billion in confirmed losses.

“Additionally, in evaluating suspected fraud loss to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, the United States estimates that more than 47,000 EIDL applications originated from IP addresses compromised by 911 S5,” the DOJ wrote. “Millions of dollars more were similarly identified by financial institutions in the United States as loss originating from IP addresses compromised by 911 S5.”

The DOJ alleges that from 2018 until July 2022, Wang made about $99 million from selling hijacked proxied IP addresses through his 911 S5 operation, receiving payments in both cryptocurrency and fiat currency. Wang used this money to buy real estate in the United States, St. Kitts and Nevis, China, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.


FBI busts alleged mastermind behind massive network of hijacked devices

Windows laptop on desk (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)



How the botnet operated

According to the DOJ, the malware was spread through free VPN programs like MaskVPN and DewVPN, which were distributed via torrent sites. It was also bundled with other programs, including pirated software, using pay-per-install services.

The operator managed around 150 dedicated servers globally, with 76 rented from U.S. online service providers. These servers were allegedly used to deploy and manage the malicious applications, control the infected devices, run the 911 S5 service and provide paying customers with access to the IP addresses of the compromised devices.

Essentially, the operator hijacked devices by infecting them with malware, the DOJ said. The infected devices then became part of the botnet, allowing their IP addresses to be rented out to cybercriminals. These cybercriminals could then use the hijacked IP addresses to anonymously carry out various offenses while concealing their true locations and identities.

FBI busts alleged mastermind behind massive network of hijacked devices

A woman working on her laptop (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)


Why free VPNs should be avoided

Wang’s arrest serves as a cautionary tale against using free VPN services. As discussed, he allegedly exploited free VPNs like MaskVPN and DewVPN to distribute malware and enable cybercriminals to misuse the IP addresses of infected devices. However, this is not the only drawback of free VPNs.


Free VPN services often lack robust data protection measures, as they typically do not undergo third-party audits to verify their security practices. Users of free VPNs may also experience sluggish internet speeds and an increased risk of phishing attacks.

Instead of relying on free VPNs, you should consider investing in reputable, paid VPN services that prioritize user privacy, security and performance. Paid VPN providers are more likely to implement robust encryption protocols, maintain strict no-logging policies and offer faster connection speeds.


6 proactive measures to take to protect yourself from such frauds

You can easily protect cybercriminals from misusing your data or personal devices by following these steps:

1) Invest in a reputable paid VPN service: Paid VPN services offer robust encryption protocols, strict no-logging policies and faster connection speeds, ensuring enhanced privacy and security when browsing the internet or accessing online services. A paid VPN service can also protect against being tracked and identify your potential location on websites that you visit. Many sites can read your IP address and, depending on their privacy settings, may display the city from which you are corresponding. A VPN will disguise your IP address to show an alternate location. For the best VPN software, see my expert review of the best VPNs for browsing the web privately on your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.


2) Have strong antivirus software: The best way to protect yourself from clicking malicious links that install malware that may get access to your private information is to have antivirus protection installed on all your devices. This can also alert you of any phishing emails or ransomware scams. Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

3) Invest in personal data removal services: While no service promises to remove all your data from the internet, having a removal service is great if you want to constantly monitor and automate the process of removing your information from hundreds of sites continuously over a longer period of time. Remove your personal data from the internet with my top picks here.

4) Use strong and unique passwords: Create strong passwords for your accounts and devices and avoid using the same password for multiple online accounts. Consider using a password manager to securely store and generate complex passwords. It will help you to create unique and difficult-to-crack passwords that a hacker could never guess. Second, it also keeps track of all your passwords in one place and fills passwords in for you when you’re logging into an account so that you never have to remember them yourself. The fewer passwords you remember, the less likely you will be to reuse them for your accounts.

5) Enable two-factor authentication: Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your phone, in addition to your password.

6) Keep software and operating systems up-to-date: Regularly update software, applications and operating systems to benefit from the latest security patches and vulnerability fixes, reducing the risk of exploitation by malware or cybercriminals.



Kurt’s key takeaways

Cybercriminals come up with new ways to exploit you, your data and your electronic devices. While it’s hard to predict which new tactic they have in store, you can protect yourself by being extra careful when navigating the web, dealing with phishing calls and clicking on links. The current cybercrime situation also teaches us not to use free VPN services, even if they sound very tempting.

Do you use a free VPN or a paid VPN service? What do you like about either of these services? Let us know by writing us at

For more of my tech tips and security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to

Ask Kurt a question or let us know what stories you’d like us to cover.


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Copyright 2024 All rights reserved.

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Update your Windows PC to avoid a serious Wi-Fi vulnerability



Update your Windows PC to avoid a serious Wi-Fi vulnerability

If you’ve been putting off your next Windows update, now’s the time to install it. Last week, Microsoft patched a pretty nasty vulnerability in Windows 11 and 10 that could put your PC at risk when connected to a public Wi-Fi network, as spotted earlier by The Register.

The vulnerability (CVE-2024-30078) could let hackers deploy a malicious packet to devices connected to the same Wi-Fi networks in places like airports, coffee shops, hotels, or even workplaces. From there, hackers can remotely run commands and gain access to a system — all without any user interaction or authentication. Microsoft rolled out the patch as part of its monthly security update on June 11th.

Microsoft has labeled the vulnerability as “important,” which is the company’s second-highest severity rating for security vulnerabilities. Even if you don’t plan on taking your laptop to the coffee shop with you anytime soon, you shouldn’t delay this patch.

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