No matter when you travel, or why you’re taking a trip, it’s essential to keep your guard up when using your devices. Nothing will spoil a holiday faster than having your privacy at risk and having issues with online safety when traveling. Your intention may be to unplug while you travel, but will that really happen? Chances are even when traveling you’re posting on social media, scrolling while waiting at the airport, or signing in to your work email. If you’re not careful, you can easily put your privacy and passwords at risk. Consider these tips for online safety for travel!
Top Cybersecurity Online Safety Tips For Travel
Look out for fake flight and hotel websites
Who doesn’t want a great deal on their travels, right? Whether you’re searching online for a hotel or a flight, there are always sites that pop up offering a deal. It’s not that great deals and savings on flights and hotels don’t exist. They do. Still, it’s always best to verify websites and that offers are legitimate. Here’s a helpful read from IATA, a travel trade group, regarding spotting fake travel sites.
Pro tip: Never heard of the site before? Do some research. Always check that a website’s URL is correct. Often, an airline or hotel will offer the same deals on their own sites. Make sure to check for that option as well.
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Don’t join unsecured Wi-Fi networks
Free Wi-Fi is one of the most common cybersecurity risks for travelers. It’s a numbers game. Scammers and those wanting to mess with your privacy know that millions of people join free Wi-Fi networks when they travel. Hotels, airports, restaurants and cafes don’t necessarily secure their Wi-Fi networks. Should an attacker hack into their routers, they could distribute malware to guests or monitor guest activity.
Pro Tip: Pay careful attention to the names of the Wi-Fi networks when they pop up as options. Often there can be a dozen or so that appear. Make sure you’re not joining a fake network with a name similar to your hotel, airline, or cafe name. Not sure? Don’t hesitate to ask. Better to be safe than sorry!
The EASIEST solution is to use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. VPNs stop intruders from seeing what you’re doing online.
There are times when you won’t be able to use a VPN. If you still have a data connection on your phone, create a hotspot from your own device (or use a portable router) to avoid connecting to any potentially unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.
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Don’t leave your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on
Most devices’ default settings make them automatically connect to networks they’ve used in the past. The risk here is that your device identifies these by the network’s name. These can easily be spoofed. Spoofing is a broad term for the type of behavior that involves a cybercriminal masquerading as a trusted entity or device to get you to do something. This something is beneficial to the hacker and detrimental to you. Any time an online scammer disguises their identity as something else, it’s spoofing.
Pro Tip: Keep your Wi-Fi turned off by default when on vacation. Connect it when you need to join a network. It’s also a good idea to turn off your Bluetooth unless you need to pair it with a specific device you trust, like your headphones. Allowing Bluetooth to automatically connect to devices may allow unsuspecting remote connections to your phone. It also acts as a tracking device for where you are. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like my actions and locations tracked. Another plus is that turning Bluetooth off saves battery power.
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Beware of airport USB charging stations
USB ports provide power. That’s the good news. But they have a downside because they can also transfer data, making them a security risk. Always think twice before plugging your device into an untrusted USB port. It is possible to modify a USB connection to install malware on your phone or download data without your knowledge.
Pro Tip: Preparation is key. Do you know what a juice jack is? It’s an inexpensive device that you can put in front of your charging cord, blocking data from passing down the cord. Another option is to use your own portable power bank. These banks can often charge multiple devices or keep one device powered up.
Think before using an internet cafe or public computer
Internet cafes aren’t as popular among travelers as they once were. They are still around though, so good to beware of the security threats they potentially pose. This tip also covers using public computers in hotels or libraries, too.
Pro Tip: Do you anticipate using an unfamiliar computer to check your email or access files on a USB drive? If so, you can prepare a portable operating system instead. Basically, it’s a USB stick that you plug into a computer to show you a private, personal operating system. Once you’re finished using the public computer you can close out of your system and be on your way knowing you ensured your safety and privacy.
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Don’t scan QR codes indiscriminately
You’ve probably heard of email phishing, but have you heard of “quishing?” There’s a term for everything, right? During the pandemic, because of the convenience and contactless nature of QR codes, using them became commonplace. This created a new breed of cyber scam: QR code phishing.
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Scammers in Texas used fake QR codes stuck over the real ones on parking meters. When people used the meters they were directed to malicious websites which asked them for their credit card and bank details. Drivers in Atlanta reported finding fake parking tickets with QR codes on their windshields, directing them to malicious sites asking for billing information.
Pro tip: Be extra wary of QR codes on flyers or stickers. Always verify the legitimacy of QR codes before scanning. Look closely at the preview of the URL when scanning a QR code to see if it looks real.
Don’t leave your phone unlocked
We still need to be reminded of this basic common sense rule. Traveling is distracting. Distractions lead to mishaps of all sorts. You’re more likely to lose your phone when your guard is down and you’re out of your normal routines. If you haven’t already, set a password!
Pro Tip: Set passwords on your mobile devices. These prevent anyone from accessing your data. This works even if your phone or devices are stolen. And set up backups for your device and accounts before you travel. Losing all your data is a nightmare.
Don’t show your screen
When thinking about online safety for travel, sometimes online security dangers are right over your shoulder while you’re on your phone or laptop.
Pro Tip: Do you use a privacy screen? It’s a simple add-on. A privacy screen is a film that darkens your screen when viewed from the side. This prevents a lot of curious onlookers from physically spying on your activity in public. They won’t be able to see what you are typing as your passwords. They won’t see your private messages. Privacy screens are a great idea for keeping things private when you’re out and about.
It’s not always easy to admit that the responsibility of online safety for travel is on us. Unfortunately, it’s just the way the world is. So rather than buck the reality, take these tips to heart. Staying safe online, whether you’re across town or across the ocean, lets you rest easier and enjoy your holiday with less stress.
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