cyber security while traveling

Remember the “good ol’ days” when taking a vacation meant completely “unplugging” and just relaxing?

Some might say we now live in a not-so-golden-age where we’re completely connected and accessible 24/7 thanks to mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets. No matter where you are – in a theme park, on a cruise or in another country, one of these devices are usually at your side.

Ah, yes – we love our gadgets. They’ve become invaluable while traveling, but did you realize they could put you (and your employer) at risk?

When it comes to cyber security, there are many opportunities for breaches when traveling with mobile devices, but here are the major threats you need to be aware of.

1) The Risk of Public Computers

If you’re carrying a mobile device, you won’t likely need to use a public computer. But in certain circumstances where the wi-fi is down or your device can’t get a signal, you might find yourself sitting in front of a computer in a café or business center in a hotel lobby.

James Lyne, expert on cyber crime and global head of security research at Sophos says he routinely investigates public PCs at hotels and often finds them riddled with malware – but that’s not the only risk with public computers.

There are also privacy risks associated with not logging out of accounts or the possibility of someone logging your keystrokes and capturing passwords or sensitive information. The simple act of printing boarding passes could leave you exposed since many airlines ask for your full name, birthday and passport number.

2) Stolen Devices

When it comes to security risks while traveling, lost or stolen devices might immediately come to mind. While this is inconvenient personally, it also presents a MAJOR security risk since mobile devices often contain a great deal of sensitive information.

If you work in a “bring your own device” (BYOD) environment, it is critical to take extra security precautions while traveling. After all, your data – and your employer’s sensitive data is at risk, particularly if they don’t have a mobile device management solution integrated with your phone.

Whether you’re traveling to another country or another state, be sure to install and activate a “find my phone” service in case you accidentally misplace your mobile device.

If your device is lost or stolen, these services allow you to lock the phone, track it and change all your passwords immediately. In addition, some services also give you the option to remotely wipe all your personal data from the phone.

3) Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

cyber security milwaukeeBack in 2012, the FBI warned the American public that hackers were specifically targeting hotel Wi-Fi spots and today, security experts agree this threat still exists.

Bottom line? Don’t let your guard down when you travel.

If you’re connected to a hotel Wi-Fi network, make sure the network offers some level of protection such as a username, password and WPA2 encryption (as opposed to the less-secure WEP encryption).

If you need to check banking information or engage in another type of sensitive activity over a public Wi-Fi network, consider using a VPN service which essentially creates a separate channel within the larger network. If you’ll be traveling for an extended period of time, services like Boingo or Norton allow you to have peace of mind while you securely access the web.

4) Bogus Hot Spots

During your travels, you might be tempted to stop by a restaurant or café to connect to Wi-Fi and avoid racking up data roaming charges with your cell phone provider.

Hackers capitalize on this and often take advantage of unsuspecting travelers by creating fake hot-spot registration pages asking for credit card info in exchange for Wi-Fi access. These pages often look legitimate and catch many people off-guard. Don’t let this happen to you.

For a minimal investment, you can purchase a subscription to a service like Boingo that offers access to more than 1 million verified hot spots around the world. Also, be sure to check with your mobile phone provider to confirm their data-roaming rates – they might not be as high as you think. In recent years, many providers have actually lowered data roaming rates for their customers.

Stay Cyber Secure

When you plan for your next vacation, keep these cyber security best practices in mind.

  • Back up your data – If you don’t have a backup of your valuable data, you’re asking for trouble. Consider moving your most sensitive data to an external storage device or cloud-based backup service before you travel.
  • Surf securely – This goes for traveling abroad or here at home. If you don’t see the ‘https’ prefix on a website in the URL field in your browser, don’t submit personal information over the web.
  • Update your software – Have you been ignoring the latest update for your favorite browser? When was the last time you updated your operating system or antivirus protection? Many updates include important patches and security fixes. The time to update software is now – BEFORE you head out on the road.

Should you be worried about cyber security while you travel? Absolutely – but now you don’t have to be a victim.

When you’re aware of the common cyber security risks travelers face, you can avoid these traps and keep your data – and your employer’s data, safe and secure.

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