Healthy Travel Tips »

Healthy Travel Tips » Stay safe on vacation

9 Ways You're Putting Your Identity or Devices at Risk When Traveling

Want to protect your personal data? Don't make these rookie mistakes.

U.S. News & World Report

9 Ways You're Putting Your Identity or Devices at Risk When Traveling

Businessman holding his passport and luggage at airport.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Dodge these common data safeguarding pitfalls on your next trip.

If you're preparing for an international trip, you're likely crossing tasks off your vacation checklist, such as packing essential items and ensuring your flight is on time. The last thing you want to do is contemplate how a skilled hacker may be targeting your personal information. But that's the exact reason you should encrypt your devices and "take the time to configure the settings on your mobile devices," says Jonathan Fairtlough, a managing director of cybersecurity and investigations at Kroll, a security consulting company. To help you keep your devices secure, U.S. News spoke with cybersecurity experts. Here are their tips to prevent leaving yourself vulnerable on your next trip.
A man puts in a password on his smartphone.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Forgetting to password protect screens.

An easy way to protect yourself is with basic encryption. "The thing that amazes me the most is that you can avoid most of the problems that you could run into [from] hacking or a data breach with just doing the bare minimum," says Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and journalist. Elliott also recommends using a password management tool like LastPass, which offers multi-factor authentication. In order to sign into one device with this kind of authentication, you must retrieve and enter a code from another device, adding an extra level of security. Jason Witty, chief information security officer at U.S. Bank, also suggests using full-disk encryption, a technology that prevents unauthorized users from acquiring data stored on your phone, PC or Mac to block sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands.
Next:

Dodge these common data safeguarding pitfalls on your next trip.

If you're preparing for an international trip, you're likely crossing tasks off your vacation checklist, such as packing essential items and ensuring your flight is on time. The last thing you want to do is contemplate how a skilled hacker may be targeting your personal information. But that's the exact reason you should encrypt your devices and "take the time to configure the settings on your mobile devices," says Jonathan Fairtlough, a managing director of cybersecurity and investigations at Kroll, a security consulting company. To help you keep your devices secure, U.S. News spoke with cybersecurity experts. Here are their tips to prevent leaving yourself vulnerable on your next trip.

Forgetting to password protect screens.

An easy way to protect yourself is with basic encryption. "The thing that amazes me the most is that you can avoid most of the problems that you could run into [from] hacking or a data breach with just doing the bare minimum," says Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and journalist. Elliott also recommends using a password management tool like LastPass, which offers multi-factor authentication. In order to sign into one device with this kind of authentication, you must retrieve and enter a code from another device, adding an extra level of security. Jason Witty, chief information security officer at U.S. Bank, also suggests using full-disk encryption, a technology that prevents unauthorized users from acquiring data stored on your phone, PC or Mac to block sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands.

Bringing all your electronics.

If your devices aren't essential, leave them at home. But if you must bring them, "back up the data on your device before you leave, and remove any data you won't need on your trip," Witty says. And if you have to bring your mobile phone, tablet and laptop, Witty recommends taking a few handy gadgets: a cable lock for your laptop, a charge-only adapter that enables you to connect your electronics to a USB port but safeguards against data going in and out of your device and a privacy screen.

Connecting to risky networks.

It may seem intuitive, but using shared computers or connecting to the internet in public areas, including hotels, cafes and airports can pose high risks. "The average consumer has no easy way to know if the Wi-Fi they are connecting to is really the one being offered by that company or if it is a rogue access point a bad guy set up with the same or a similar name," Witty explains. His advice: "Whenever connecting to a potentially untrusted network, be sure to either immediately connect to a virtual private network (VPN) service which will encrypt all of your communications, or ensure the apps you are using communicate only with strong encryption."

Not configuring your phone for travel.

It's a smart idea to install a VPN on your phone, Fairtlough says. And "don't mix business and pleasure," he adds. If you need to access work info while on a trip, make sure to follow your company's configuration settings. Most companies use controlled software to provide an additional layer of protection for you and your organization. Jason Chaikin, president of Vkansee, a biometric verification company, also suggests ensuring your devices have a fire wall and virus protection, through a veritable company like McAfee, to prevent malicious activity when you connect to the internet.

Keeping your devices in inconsistent locations.

According to Chaikin, it's a smart idea to have a standard operating procedure, so when you go through airport security you return your phone to a specific location. When you – and your travel companions – have a habit in place, you mitigate your risk of losing valuable electronics. And when you go to popular tourist attractions, remember you're a target, he adds. In those cases, you should maintain close contact with your device by putting it in your pocket or within sight, he explains. Another smart trick: Choose a carry-on with a special compartment for your laptop, so you don't have to retrieve it – and risk misplacing it – during security screenings.

Broadcasting your location on social media accounts.

Keep in mind the potential hazards of alerting your whereabouts to the world. "Do not post vacation photos to the public on social media while you are still on vacation. Wait until you get back or only publish to your real friends," Witty says, cautioning against posting public status updates. "This especially applies to your teenage kids. It is well known in U.S. law enforcement that over 75 percent of burglars use social media to find their targets," he says.

Neglecting to back up your data.

According to Witty, data backups are critical. "Whether backing your phone up to your laptop or backing your laptop up to a network drive or backing all of them up to the cloud, you always want to have a backup copy of your data." Cloud-based storage is a great way to ensure your data is saved and secure. Witty also suggests comparing different mobile security apps to identify the ones that communicate using encryption or if your device settings put you at risk. "Some even tell you which countries the apps you are using are sending your data to," he says.

Not staying vigilant of your surroundings.

"The biggest vulnerability is losing your device," Chaikin says. Stay aware of those around you, so someone can't simply snatch your electronics. If you're taking a selfie, for instance, hold your phone tight, and conduct research ahead of your trip to know where you're vulnerable to theft, he says. And as Witty points out, it's essential to be wary of any bystander looking to borrow your device, even to snap a picture, as they can easily run away with a phone or tablet that you've unlocked, giving them free reign over your data.

Skipping setting up a tracker function.

While losing your phone or laptop might seem like a nightmare, there are easy preventative measures you can take to ensure thieves can't access your digital data. "To me, the most practical thing to do is make sure to turn on your tracking function," Chaikin says. If you have an Apple iOS smartphone, ensure to activate the Find My iPhone software to ensure your data and privacy remains safe. If you have a Windows Phone, you can use a comparable Find My Phone feature, and if you're an Android user, you can locate your cellphone and erase personal data with the Android Device Manager tool.
1 of 10

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.