Heading out with some friends for a Spring Break getaway? Or maybe the family is getting away for some quality time?
Since you’re likely bringing some tech on the trip – a smartphone for taking photos or navigating a road trip, a tablet for swiping through movies on an airplane or a laptop for logging onto social media in a café or hotel room – be sure to also pack some cybersecurity smarts for all your devices.
In fact, because your online activity and device use will be on the rise while on the go and potentially in less-than-secure locations, your risks are also increased.
Especially while on vacation, you don’t want to fall victim to malware (malicious software), phishing scams, data breaches, or risk your personal or financial info being exposed if your phone is lost or stolen.
“The good news is you don’t need to be tech-savvy in order to bump up your cyber smarts while traveling or when back at home,” says Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert with NordVPN, a leading “virtual private network” provider that lets you safely browse the web anonymously.
“Regardless of how long you have been using the internet, you can end up falling victim to some kind of precarious website or download,” adds Markuson.
A simple cybersecurity checklist before hitting the road:
Update your apps
Hackers exploit software vulnerabilities, while developers patch flaws and introduce new security features.
“If you’re one of those people who likes to postpone updates, make sure to take care of this before your trip,” advises Markuson. “Otherwise, you’re increasing the risk of getting yourself in trouble at the worst possible time.”
Lock your phone
A disturbing finding from the 2022 McAfee Consumer Mindset Report: only half (56%) of parents use passwords or passcodes to protect their mobile devices and only 41% have installed passwords or passcodes on their children’s phones.
If you don’t lock your smartphone with a PIN code, password, pattern, or biometrics login (like a thumbprint or facial scan), anyone who finds your missing phone can access your information.
The same advice could be applied to your laptop or tablet: require a password to use all your tech. That way, if it’s lost or stolen, no one can tap into your private info.
Since your phone will be locked, be sure to keep a digital scan of important documents – like your passport and driver’s license – just in case your paper documents are misplaced. On a related note, link a credit or debit card to your phone, using a free service like Apple Pay or Google Pay, in case you lose your wallet. You can also set it up to alert you whenever – and wherever your cards are used.
Change your passwords
While convenient, if you use the same password for all your online activity, you’re putting yourself at risk if just one of those accounts is breached.
Create new and unique passwords before your trip and opt for “multifactor authentication,” which means you not only need to type in your password to access, say, your banking app or website, but you’ll also need to type in a one-time code sent to your device to prove it’s you.
There are many good password manager apps too.
Speaking of banking, Markuson suggests dedicating a separate bank account for traveling and keeping a limited amount of money there. “Using the same credit card for online shopping, withdrawing money from ATMs abroad and receiving your salary is not the best idea,” from a security standpoint.
Use a VPN
Use a VPN to browse anonymously.
Why? A browser’s “Private” or “Incognito” mode only wipes your history and cookies clean when you close the browsing session, but what you’re doing while online can still be seen by your service provider, the government, advertisers and malicious types.
A VPN conceals your online identity by using encryption technology to make your data unreadable to anyone who tries to access it.
Without a VPN, you’re especially at risk on a public Wi-Fi hotspot, as the host of the free internet (like a restaurant or airport) may be able to track your activity, not to mention the risk of nearby cyberthieves looking to exploit an open network.
With one NordVPN account (from $3.49/month), you can protect up to six gadgets, says Markuson, plus users benefit from the app’s new Threat Protection feature, which adds a layer of security to make your online browsing safer. It blocks websites known for hosting malware and other scams, prevents annoying ads and pop-ups from crowding your screen and scans for malware and deletes it before it can wreak havoc on your machine).
Pick up a local SIM
If you’re using your phone outside of the U.S., remember you’ll incur roaming fees, so contact your carrier to inquire about the best travel plan they have, so you don’t come home to a surprise on your wireless bill.
Those who travel overseas might consider renting or buying a local SIM card to put into the phone (which you can often do when you land at the airport), as it’ll likely be cheaper than paying your carrier.
Using a local SIM for data also means you can avoid public Wi-Fi and boost your security.
Other laptop tips
According to McAfee, most parents have taken several security precautions for their laptop, such as installing anti-malware, regularly updating the operating system, requiring a password/passcode to log onto the device and only installing apps from reputable online stores.
But these smart safeguards aren’t largely in place for their children’s laptops, as published in McAfee’s most recent report Only 47% of parents surveyed claim to have installed anti-malware software on their children’s PCs and only 40% said to have installed a password or passcode to protect the device. Just 37% of parents check the browsing and email history of their children and only one-third regularly educate their children on how to protect themselves online.
Refrain from public PCs
Don’t have a laptop?
If you can avoid it, it’s not ideal to use a communal PC in a hotel’s business center or airport lounge, as cybercriminals can secretly install “keystroking” software to capture your typed words (including passwords).
But if you must use these, refrain from any financial transactions, like online banking. And remember to log out of your online activity (like webmail service or social media account) before you leave – and restart the machine too.
On a related note, don’t use public printers at a hotel’s business center, especially if it’s sensitive financial or work documents, as those could be hacked too. And what about that print job you don’t think worked? It might spit out those papers after you’ve left.
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