Travelers often worry about flight delays, bad weather and disappointing accommodation when considering the factors that could ruin a vacation. While they can cause headaches, so can their online activities and shopping habits.
Think about the last time you traveled, did you post your beach pics on Facebook or Twitter? Did you use that free WiFi in the coffee shop or hotel and was it secure? What about using your credit card to buy that marble chess set at the local market in Brazil, was your card information stolen? Mine was…
The lack of secure Internet access when traveling, as well as your shopping habits can wreak havoc and last much longer than the tan you got at the beach. Did you know we’ve all lost our identity at least three times, with more than 930 million records breached, lost or stolen to hackers and cyber criminals? That surprised me, but it shouldn’t have… (Remember the Target, Home Depot and Sony hacks, which left customers and employees – aka me and you – in harm’s way.)
As a mobile person, I open myself up to threats every time I login, download an app or make a post and when I travel the risks are higher. While businesses generally try to ensure safety of our personal data, you also need to play a part in your online safety, especially when you’re on the road and connecting to various networks. So what should you do? A lot…but it’s all totally manageable. I’ve put together a list of 16 online safety tips for traveling.
Online Safety Tips – Things to do Before You Go
1. Remove Data. Backing up is always important, but before you travel it is essential. Shaun Murphy, CEO at PrivateGiant suggests removing unnecessary sensitive data from your devices when going on a trip including photos, videos, financial documents and stored passwords. This can save you from heartache and headaches down the road if your devices are breached, stolen or misplaced.
2. Wipe Your History. Clear your browser cache files and remove saved passwords. If you accidentally connect to an unsecure WiFi network while traveling do not make it effortless for criminals to steal your private information such as bank access, work emails or photos.
3. Check Your Apps. Do you really need all of them? Gary Miliefsky, CEO of SnoopWall suggests deleting all of the apps you aren’t regularly using. “We all install 30-50 apps but end up using only about 5-7 on a daily basis. It’s time to uninstall all the apps you don’t use – especially on an Android because some of them might continue to run in the background and eavesdrop on you when you don’t even know it. Ultimately, any app that you install or trust without checking permissions is risky. You need to check the permissions – if a scientific calculator needs to geolocate you and read your contacts and/or phone logs and connect to the Internet, it’s probably malware.” (Flashlight apps are the most downloaded and the most notorious for malware. Not the ones that come with your smartphone or tablet but the third party flashlight apps you download and install on your device.)
4. Fake It. Create temporary passwords for sites you plan on accessing while traveling. It is estimated that 60% of people use the same password, or a variation of one, for every account. If you get hacked while traveling, having a temporary “throwaway” password for email or social media will prevent a headache if your home accounts were compromised. (And don’t save your passwords in a document or password on your computer…)
5. Turn Off Geotagging. Did you know Twitter and Instagram as well as your iPhone will give away your location? Both Twitter and Instagram use geotagging for everything you send out. Geotagging stores the latitude and longitude of your tweet or image. Pictures you take on an iPhone usually store geotagging information, as well. The less information you give out about where you are located, the safer you are.
6. Update AntiVirus Software: If you’re taking your laptop on the road, make sure you’re running the latest updates of your antivirus software, aka your Internet Security software.
7. Check Your Email for Tracers: “If you use a Google email account and have an Android phone, you’d be surprised that even with your GPS off, it’s tracking your every move,” Miliefsky says. You need to go into the phone’s settings to turn off that tracking feature, he says. In your Android phone, go to “settings,” then “location.” Select “Google location reporting” and set “location history” to off.
8. Consider Freezing Your Credit. Did you know you can put a lock on your credit file? This means people (including yourself) won’t be able to open credit cards or loans in your name. It’s a great way to protect yourself from identify theft, even when you’re not traveling, according to Miliefsky. Although he did say it does “slow down some of the credit processing for new accounts”. This won’t change the functionality of your existing credit or debit cards, they remain active and fully functional. You just can’t open more… If you do freeze your credit you will need to allow at least one week to have the unfreezing process finished – then you can apply for however many of those mileage credit cards you want. (How to Freeze Your Credit)
Online Safety When Traveling
9. Browse Safely. Murphy says, one of the main ways to ensure Internet security for travelers is to make sure they are using a secured connection to websites when available. A simple “s” (https:// instead of http:// in your web browser’s URL bar) will protect you from most threats local and remote. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a utility that will automatically use a secure connection for you.
10. Double Down. Enable two-factor authentication on your important web services (email, social media, etc.) so in the event that someone does gain access to your passwords they need a second code to get in. (Guidelines for setting up two-factor authentication on your Google account.)
11. Privatize WiFi. For additional Internet security when using a Wi-Fi network at a hotel or airport, Murphy suggests travelers use a VPN on their laptop. A VPN creates an encrypted connection to a third-party server, and all your Internet traffic is routed through that server. Snoopers on the network will only see encrypted data.
12. Share Wisely. While it is tempting to post about a vacation on social media or keep a blog about your adventures to stay in touch with family and friends, resist the urge. Every tidbit of information you publicly share online is a breadcrumb criminals can use to piece together a snapshot of your life that can lead to them to cracking your passwords and hacking your digital accounts. (For more read, Vacation Home Security: New Rules in Today’s Digital World)
13. Turn off WiFi, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication and GPS except when you need them. That way, Miliefsky says, if you are at a local coffee shop or in a shopping mall, no one can spy using nearby (proximity) hacking attack. They also can’t track where you were and where you are going on GPS.
14. Shut Down. Switch off the wireless connection on your phone, tablet and laptop when they are not in use. Murphy says that by keeping the connection off you are taking another step in protecting your digital identity. This prevents opportunities for criminals to automatically connect to your device on an open network without you ever knowing what happened.
15. Don’t Use Cash or Debit Cards. Credit cards allow you to travel with less cash, and if you’re purchasing online, it’s safer to give your credit card than your debit card information. The same holds true when you visit your local retail outlet. The reason? If you experience identity theft, credit card laws allow you to keep all of your credit, with no liability during an investigation. With a debit card, your bank can tie up your money in the amount equivalent to the fraudulent transactions for up to 30 days.
Online Safety Tips for When You Return Home
16. Sweep Clean. Running a security sweep when you get home is a wise precaution. Check your computer and other devices for spyware, malware, and viruses. One indication that malware exists is to look for an increase in memory or data usage that is otherwise inexplicable.
What To Do If You Have Been Comprised
If you think your computer or personal information has been compromised, you can file a complaint about Internet-related frauds, scams, and suspicious activity with the following organizations:
- The Federal Trade Commission – The Federal Trade Commission is the nation’s consumer protection agency and collects complaints about fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices. If you think you may be a victim of fraud, file a complaint with the FTC.
- firstname.lastname@example.org – If you receive an email that you think may be a scam, forward it to the FTC and it will be stored in a database that law enforcement agencies use to generate legal cases.
- Your State Attorney General – In addition to the FTC, you can also file a complaint with your state Attorney General’s office if you think you may be a victim of fraud. Your state Attorney General’s office handles a wide range of complaints related to consumer protection.
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center – The IC3 is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, whose mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints related to cyber crime.
- The Anti-Phishing Working Group – In addition to forwarding spam to email@example.com, you can also forward spam to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Anti-Phishing Working Group is a consortium of ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies that use this email to fight phishing.
- The Better Business Bureau accepts complaints from consumers against businesses or services, and is dedicated to fostering an ethical business environment.
- National Crime Prevention Council – The mission of the NCPC is to be the nation’s leader in helping people keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe from crime. To achieve this, the NCPC produces tools that communities can use to learn crime prevention strategies – including a podcast series for children and adults on the facts of cyber bullying, how to prevent it and manage it.
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – This non-profit organization has a Congressionally-mandated CyberTipline as a means for reporting crimes against children. Reports may be made 24-hours a day, 7 days a week online at www.cybertipline.com or by calling 1-800-843-5678.
- Department of Justice – The DOJ’s Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section tells you where to go to report hacking, password trafficking, spam, child exploitation and other Internet harassment.
- USA.gov: Reporting Internet Fraud – A list of official government resources to help you report, prevent, and learn about Internet fraud.
Any other online safety tips for traveling you think we should add to the list?
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.