Sandy beaches, a soothing hammock, and a sturdy padlock.
As the holiday season unfolds, whether you’re embarking on a family visit or seeking a tranquil retreat, it’s crucial to maintain digital vigilance while using your gadgets away from the comfort of your home.
The idea of disconnecting during the holidays, creating a barrier between oneself and the plethora of screens that have consumed your time throughout the year, is indeed alluring. However, let’s face the truth: you’re likely to remain active on social media, engage in endless scrolling during airport layovers, or occasionally access your work emails—all activities that could jeopardize your privacy and password security if not managed wisely.
Guard Against Deceptive Travel Websites
The allure of economizing on air travel and lodging by using online travel platforms offering eye-catching deals is undeniable. However, ensure the authenticity of the websites where you make your bookings. Heed the advisory from travel industry groups like IATA about counterfeit travel sites.
A Better Approach: Investigate unfamiliar websites thoroughly. For renowned ones, verify that the website’s URL is accurate (consider bookmarking it for frequent use). It’s also advisable to book directly through trustworthy organizations like established hotel chains or airlines.
Steer Clear of Unprotected Wi-Fi Networks
The ubiquity of complimentary Wi-Fi poses a significant cybersecurity hazard for voyagers. The multitude of users connecting to free Wi-Fi in hotels, cafes, and airports makes them prime targets for cyber attackers. Many of these locations fail to secure their Wi-Fi networks, leaving an opening for hackers to infiltrate routers and potentially distribute malware or monitor online activities.
A Safer Alternative: Always authenticate the Wi-Fi network’s name to avoid connecting to imposter networks that mimic legitimate ones, like your hotel’s Wi-Fi. If uncertain, consult the staff.
The simplest strategy is to utilize a VPN when accessing public Wi-Fi. VPNs obscure your online activities from prying eyes. If a VPN isn’t an option and you have a mobile data connection, consider using your device as a hotspot (or employ a portable router) to bypass risky public Wi-Fi networks.
Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth When Not in Use
Default settings on most devices prompt them to automatically reconnect to previously used networks, identifying these by their names, which are easily imitable.
A Better Practice: Turn off Wi-Fi by default while vacationing, and only enable it when necessary. Similarly, deactivate Bluetooth unless connecting to a trusted device, like your headphones. Unrestricted Bluetooth connections can inadvertently establish remote links to your phone or enable advertisers to track your movements in a mall or market. Disabling Bluetooth also conserves battery life.
Beware of Airport USB Charging Stations
USB ports, while convenient for charging, can also transmit data, presenting a security concern when plugging into unknown USB ports. There’s a risk that cybercriminals could alter a USB connection to install malware or clandestinely extract data from your device.
Preventative Measures: Equip yourself with a device like a juice jack blocker, available for under $10, which impedes data transfer through your charging cord. Alternatively, bring a personal power bank, capable of charging multiple devices simultaneously or recharging a single device multiple times. This is particularly useful for lengthy airport waits or extensive, photo-heavy excursions.
Exercise Caution at Internet Cafes
Internet cafes, once a staple for travelers have declined in popularity with the rise of smartphones—a positive development from a data security perspective.
A Safer Option: If you foresee the need to use an unfamiliar computer for email access or file retrieval from a USB drive, consider preparing a portable operating system. This is essentially a USB stick that, when plugged into a computer, presents a private operating system, which you can then securely exit upon completion of your tasks. More details on this can be found here.
Scrutinize QR Codes
Email phishing is well-known, but are you familiar with “quishing”? The resurgence of QR codes during the pandemic, prized for their convenience and contactless nature, has given rise to a new form of cyber scam: QR code phishing.
In Texas, scammers replaced genuine QR codes on parking meters with fraudulent ones leading to malicious websites requesting credit card and bank details. Atlanta drivers encountered counterfeit parking tickets with QR codes, redirecting them to harmful sites for billing information.
What You Should Do: Exercise extra caution with QR codes on flyers or stickers. Always attempt to confirm their legitimacy before scanning, especially if they involve financial transactions. Pay attention to the URL preview when scanning a QR code to assess its authenticity.
Secure Your Phone with a Passcode
It’s basic advice, but essential. The distractions of travel and holiday activities increase the likelihood of misplacing your phone. Delaying the setup of a passcode is unwise.
The Solution: Implement passcodes on your mobile devices to prevent unauthorized access in case of theft. Additionally, arrange for backups of your device and accounts before traveling, safeguarding your data.
Conceal Your Screen from Prying Eyes
Sometimes, the threat to online security is literally over your shoulder while you’re engrossed in your phone or laptop.
The Remedy: Invest in a privacy screen—a film that obscures your screen from side views, thereby thwarting curious bystanders from spying on your activities, like password entry or private messaging. These screens are invaluable for maintaining privacy during international journeys.
Remote access vpn policy definition
Unsecured Wi-Fi networks expose users to the potential of cyber attackers monitoring their online activities or distributing malware.
Keeping Bluetooth off prevents unsolicited remote connections and tracking by advertisers, besides conserving battery life.
A juice jack blocker prevents data transfer through a charging cord, safeguarding against the installation of malware or unauthorized data extraction.
A portable operating system offers a private and secure computing environment, which can be fully exited after use, protecting your data.
A privacy screen prevents onlookers from viewing your screen from the side, enhancing privacy and security, especially during travel.