For many people, work equals lots of travel. When you’re on the road, you’re at the mercy of public WiFi networks, which means security threats and unpredictable Internet browsing speeds. Before you worry about speed, you must make sure you’re not putting all of your personal and professional secrets on display. Most of the unfamiliar faces at the airport pay no attention to your smartphone or tablet, but there’s no way to really know if the person sitting next to you is trying to steal your personal information, data or files.
This risk applies to everyone, not just traveling businesspeople. You could be victimized while reading a text message in the grocery store, or browsing Pinterest while sipping a latte at Starbucks. Yet, many people don’t realize that tapping in their Facebook or OneDrive password in a public place could set them up for disaster – and not just from the insidious guy staring at the laptop screen in front of him. Sometimes the enemy is invisible.
1. Don’t Download Large Files
Access documents in the cloud, instead. It’s accessible 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the world. Cloud service is also lightning fast, as service providers maintain their own hardware and regularly update their servers, MyCustomer.com explains.
2. Don’t Use Evil Twin Hotspots
An Evil Twin hotspot, as About Tech refers to it, is a WiFi access point set up by a hacker that looks almost exactly like a legitimate hotspot provided by a business. Cybercriminals can steal account names and passwords, and send innocent users to malware and phishing sites. When using a public WiFi hotspot, only use secure HTTPS sites, and avoid any unsecured public networks with generic names, like “Free-public-wifi,” for example. Most legitimate hotspots require some sort of login before you can connect. VPN encryption will also protect you.
3. Don’t Forget to Install Updates
Update your antivirus software, operating system and other software for the latest security patches before leaving. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has a list of things travelers should do before hitting the road, including making sure that all security applications and software are up to date, including anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spy software.
4. Don’t Overlook Business Cyber Liability Insurance
Cyber liability insurance has been around for about a decade. According to Computer Weekly, it generally covers data breach/privacy crisis management, multimedia/media, extortion liability and network security. Travelers Insurance offers coverage for small businesses via their CyberFirst Essentials.
5. Don’t Store Critical Information on Your Device
Store critical information elsewhere temporarily, like on a flash drive or mobile device. As we mentioned earlier, the cloud is an excellent way to access sensitive data, due to its security, ease of use and constant availability. According to a recent PC Advisor article, the top five cloud services are Dropbox, Google Drive, Mega, Copy and OneDrive.
6. Don’t Forget to Backup All Your Devices
Backup your devices before leaving so that all of your information can be retrieved should you lose them, they’re stolen, or there is some sort of emergency. Remove sensitive data and install strong passwords. Take a look at the FCC’s Cybersecurity Tips for International Travelers.
7. Don’t Use the Same Passwords
Don’t use the same passwords when traveling that you use at home. Create long, strong, secure temporary passwords for travel purposes instead – and change them again when you return. IndependentTraveler.com points out that identity thieves are patient criminals. They don’t mind waiting until you’ve been home for a few weeks and are less likely to pay such close attention to cybersecurity. If you’re partial to a password or code, the website recommends changing your password just before you leave, then changing it back to the original code when you get back.
8. Don’t Forget to Enable Your Computer’s Firewall
The University of Texas explains firewalls like this: “A firewall determines if a source address trying to connect to your computer through an open port is one you have decided to trust and denies access to any unauthorized traffic.” Firewalls prevent hackers from breaking into your system, keep viruses and worms from spreading to your computer and protect outgoing traffic from your computer created by a virus.
9. Don’t Overlook the Possibility of Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, scrambles all of the information you send and receive over the Internet so that cyber spies can’t see it. VPNs prevent banking lockouts, allow you to surf the Internet securely using a WiFi connection, access media worldwide, bypass censorship, and permit you to access websites and services in different countries, according to Too Many Adapters.
10. Don’t Leave Autofill and Cookies Enabled
Cookies may contain information about the sites you visited, as well as credentials for accessing the site (like passwords), potentially allowing hackers to acquire unauthorized access to a site by obtaining the cookie, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team explains. The autofill feature may allow hackers to use stored credentials to access sites that they normally wouldn’t be able to, which could mean gaining access to your personal information.
11. Don’t Perform Any Banking Tasks
These should be avoided at all costs if necessary. Bank of America suggests that, whenever possible, travelers pay their bills before they go. Informing your bank that you’ll be traveling may also prevent them from freezing your assets if they see unusual activity on your accounts from overseas.
12. Don’t Use Unencrypted WiFi
Most public WiFi connections are not encrypted, OnGuardOnline.gov warns. If a network doesn’t require a WPA or WPA2 password, it’s almost definitely not encrypted. To find out if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of the URL (the “s” is for “secure”). Unfortunately, mobile apps don’t have such a visible indicator.
13. Don’t Use Public Computers
A July 2014 Slate article put it perfectly – you should treat public computers like public restrooms: with a little fear. Not only can people look over your shoulder at what your looking at/typing, but they can secretly put keylogging software on public computers to track your every keystroke – passwords included. In fact, last July the Secret Service and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center issued a warning about that very thing happening in major hotel business centers in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, according to KrebsonSecurity.com.
14. Don’t Use HTTP
As we talked about earlier, the only way to know if a website is encrypted is if you see “https” at the beginning of the URL. As BizTech Magazine explains, HTTPS takes incoming and outgoing data and encrypts it, using a mathematical algorithm to conceal its true meaning.
15. Don’t Forget to Read Your Apps’ Permissions
Many apps can transmit private data and many can spy on you, leaving an open door for cyber-thieves to steal your most valued information. Some free apps can embed malicious spyware, ABC News warns, with the sole purpose stealing a user’s identity and financial data or even listening in on phone calls. Read the permissions before downloading an app, and don’t download anything that requests access to any information it doesn’t need. Uninstall apps you don’t use, and consider downloading paid apps that ask for fewer permissions than free ones.
16. Don’t Ignore the “Social Snoop”
Travel & Leisure warned last fall of an emerging threat – the “social snoop.” These “social engineering” attacks use information that you share on social networks to gain your confidence. The website gives this example: Someone contacts you posing as an employee of a hotel you recently stayed at. That person asks for your credit card information “to take care of some incidentals.” Simply put, watch how much information you share about your travels online.
Travel Image via Shutterstock
Have to agree. I have seen many people try to download large files from public wifi just because it is free not noticing that it affects the other people who are using it.