You and I might take vacations from work, but this is unfortunately not the case for criminal hackers. In fact, hackers are more likely to take advantage of those of us on vacation. We’re distracted, relaxed, guards down, distanced from the day-to-day grind. The perfect attack targets for those who exploit oblivious “weak links.”
Organizations want to avoid a data breach at all costs, because it’s incredibly damaging. And it can be just as expensive, time-consuming, and draining to deal with the consequences of a personal data breach. It’s worth the extra effort to avoid that on either side! Here are some common sense tips for keeping your security muscles strong away from home.
Keep it Simple
When it comes to clothing, most people who travel consciously pack light. Do you think the same way in regards to your devices?
Ask yourself if you’re really going to use or need it, and if the answer is hesitant or a flat-out no, then don’t take it. If you travel often, you might want to consider investing in “throwaway” devices (phones, laptops, or tablets that contain no confidential data). This is especially helpful if you need the connectivity but have sensitive info on other devices you use daily. When you return, simply reformat the device and use again next time.
This minimalist approach also applies to any personal information you might physically bring along, such as forms of identification, paperwork, and credit cards. Write down anything you’re taking (along with numbers to call in case something is lost or stolen), and put that information in a safe place.
Let’s Get Physical
A good percentage of traveling safe successfully is based on taking physical security measures. It all boils down to remaining aware of your environment and where your devices and info are at all times. Criminals are always on the lookout for a point of weakness, and so you must be just as vigilant to remain strong.
Never leave your devices or wallet unattended. NEVER! Not even if you’re at a house with dinner guests and you’re going to the bathroom for a minute. Not even if you’re checking your bags at the airport and you put your smartphone off to the side. Not even if you’re at a small café and want to leave your laptop at your table to get a quick refill. It can take mere seconds to steal your device or to quickly install malware via USB drive.
In fact, if you don’t absolutely need a device or credit card while away from wherever you’re staying, leave it behind! Hotel rooms are admittedly not the most secure places since many staff members have (or could get) access, but if you store important items as safely as possible in them, it’s far better than the risk of unnecessarily carrying them around with you.
If you’ll be shopping in packed malls or walking down crowded sidewalks, resist the urge to keep your new smartphone in your hand or sticking out of a jacket’s outer pocket. Some criminals employ a “drive-by” technique in these situations and rip the phone right out of unassuming hands, then disappear quickly into the surrounding crowd. You might also want to consider getting a privacy screen for your devices to keep on-screen info safe from shoulder surfers.
Zip it Up
We’ve grown accustomed to oversharing our lives with others on social media. While this might help you stay connected with close friends and family who live away from you, sharing irresponsibly can be quite risky.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d willingly give a faceless stranger the same information. Would you tell someone you don’t know or trust that you’re going out of town for a whole week and leaving your house empty? What about your exact location, and every other location you’ve visited in the last 3 days? Want them to know that your child is on a school trip and where? No, of course not!
Although you should already know and have locked down your privacy settings on social media accounts, do a double check before leaving the house. If any service automatically adds your location or checks you in when posting, turn it off immediately. Even at home it’s not good to give a pattern of your habits to criminals. And remember, “checking in” lets people know where you aren’t as well! Avoid the temptation and save vacation posts for when you return. Again, you don’t want to risk the chance that someone will see you’re not at home and take advantage.
You might want to use the WiFi hotspot your phone just found to check in on your bank account balance after all those travel expenses, but you probably don’t want the unnoticed person sitting several feet away to have your login details. This is what can easily happen – without your knowledge! – if you allow your device to automatically connect to open WiFi and then carelessly browse without a VPN.
VPNs keep your device hidden from prying eyes with layers of encryption and security. Without a VPN, a hacker can see every keystroke you enter, every site you visit, every email you send, and everything you access on your device. View this fun PSA we made about the importance of using protection!
Regardless, you should probably hold off on conducting private or confidential affairs until you’re connected to a protected network you know and trust if at all possible.
You should also check before you connect. Did you know that hackers can set up a rogue mobile hotspot, name it something inconspicuous, and do even more damage when you connect to it? Ask an employee if they even have free WiFi, and if they do, how to connect to it before blindly trusting that the network named “Free Lounge WiFi” is safe.
Think a Few Steps Ahead
Okay, so you absolutely have to take your laptop and smartphone with you on an upcoming trip. Before you leave the house, spend half an hour backing up all your files, removing any unneeded sensitive data, strengthening important passwords, patching your software and operating system, and making sure your antimalware software is up-to-date. When you return home, take a few extra security measures, such as changing passwords or even reformatting the device, in case it was compromised while away.
These tips are common sense, nontechnical, and easy to follow; no excuses!! Traveling can be stressful enough without the added headache of a security breach or stolen device. Embrace the spirit of vacation more fully by making sure you and your family are prepared ahead of time.
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