How To Stay Secure Online While Traveling

By Haseeb Awan

When planning a business trip, "travel security" isn't always at the top of your list.

While we prioritize security no matter where we are, it's paramount when working remotely or traveling. This encompasses our well-being and belongings and work devices containing sensitive company data.

These days, traveling with data can be dangerous. Nowadays, staying secure online is more important than ever, especially traveling. With so many people using public WiFi and connecting to unfamiliar networks, it's easy for hackers to steal your data—scammers on public networks at the airport and pickpockets who wish to steal your phone. Then there are the good guys, such as border officials who, in the course of performing their duties, may inadvertently put you in a compromising situation as happened to one NASA employee.

When you're out of the office, you might not have the same robust cybersecurity shielding your devices as you do at home or work. This means that when traveling, you need to be extra careful about which networks you connect to and what kind of activity you engage in on these networks. Mobile devices are especially vulnerable to hacks since they are often used on unsecured public WiFi networks. By taking a few simple precautions, however, you can help protect yourself and your data while traveling.

Suppose you use your work mobile device often while on business trips; you need to take extra security precautions to avoid being hacked. There are some basic safety measures that all employees should follow when traveling with a work device.

Ways to Improve Your Online Security Before Traveling

Let's go over all the steps you can take to secure your devices before you leave for your trip. It's a lot easier to adjust these settings and opt-in for these features without being rushed or trying to follow directions, and they'll give you a solid foundation of security while you're away from home.

Keep Your Devices Up-To-Date

Do you ever get the urge to refresh your PC or laptop because it reminds you of pending updates? Sure, the pop-up may be a little inconvenient, and it likes to crop up when you're occupied, but you shouldn't ignore the alerts - an out-of-date device is vulnerable to malware. Take the plunge now or set them to roll out automatically at your chosen time. We recommend double-checking that your antivirus has been updated recently – and don't forget about your smartphone!

Use A Secure VPN

Now that you've secured your devices and accounts at home, it's time to focus on securing them while you're away. The first step is downloading a reliable VPN before you leave. A quality VPN will encrypt your traffic, making it impossible for anyone to snoop on your online activity or steal your personal information. This is important whether you're using public WiFi or not, but it's especially crucial when you connect to untrusted networks.

If you're using public WiFi, make sure you have a VPN installed and turned on. This will encrypt your traffic and prevent anyone from snooping on your activities.

We always recommend using a paid VPN over a free one. This is because free VPNs are often unreliable and have been known to sell user data. That said, if you can't afford a paid VPN, TunnelBear and Windscribe are two of the more reputable free providers.

Once you've chosen and installed your VPN, make sure to connect to it any time you go online while you're away. And don't forget to choose the most secure server location possible!

Try Out Trackers

Even though it might seem like a lot, investing in a tracker is worth it. It's better to have one and not need it than to be without one and face an emergency unprepared. There are plenty of tracking apps you can download that'll tell you where your device is if it gets stolen in a crowded place or on a night out. With this information, reporting the incident will be much easier for you - and hopefully, result in getting your phone back quickly.

Use A Burner Phone While Traveling

This is a great tip, particularly if you're traveling to a country where you might not have service or coverage. Purchase a cheap, pay-as-you-go phone and only use it while you're in the country – that way, even if your phone is lost or stolen, your attacker won't have access to any sensitive information or account details. Be sure to dispose of the phone properly when you leave, too! 

Create Stronger Passwords

You've undoubtedly seen this advice repeated on the internet (and all over this blog), but it's worth repeating! Don't rely on weak passwords; don't use the same password for all your devices and accounts. If you do, you're giving access to any hacker who manages to get your information – making their task much simpler. Change your passwords; add symbols, numbers, and unique words to spice things up! Even if you don't plan on using one while traveling, we recommend you invest in a passcode or password for your phone - even if it's just for the duration of your trip.

Two-Factor Authentication Is Recommended

Two-factor authentication is a common security precaution that comes with huge benefits. 2FA is an easy way to add extra protection to your account. You'll need a code in addition to your login credentials when you enable it, and you'll get it by text message if you try to sign in. This means that even if they have your username and password, hackers will be unable to access your accounts since they won't have access to your phone and, therefore, won't be able to give them the correct access code.

Online Security Measures to Take While Traveling

It's easy to want just to relax when you're on vacation and forget about all the stresses of your normal life, but you should still be cautious about your online security. A lot of the tips below are common sense – if something sounds too good to be true or makes you feel uneasy, trust your gut and play it safe.

Protect Yourself by Avoiding Public Hotspots

This tip is key if you're visiting a big city with many coffee shops and restaurants. You'll see an extensive list of free WiFi networks to connect to, including your hotel and the airport. But beware – these hotspots are often unsecure. Unsecure public hotspots leave your data vulnerable to cybercriminals. They gain access to your information either by spying on unencrypted connections or setting up false but believable access points. We advise against using these types of hotspots unless you have a Virtual Private Network installed for extra security.

Turn Your Bluetooth Off

It's a similar story if you're not currently utilizing Bluetooth. Make sure it's switched off if you aren't! Admittedly, turning this setting every time you've finished connecting to a smart speaker or using AirDrop is a little more difficult than simply flipping a switch. Still, Bluetooth transmissions might be intercepted and hacked by thieves in the area. They can hack your device via Bluetooth and even take control of it, regardless of whether it is linked to anything else. Turning off your Bluetooth may help save battery life... as long as you need another push!

Avoid Auto-Connect

Auto-connect can be a lifesaver, but it could pose security risks when you're lugging your devices around on vacation. Auto-connecting to available WiFi networks is convenient and keeps you online at home or in known & trusted locations like family & friends' houses or work. However, not all accessible connections are secure or legitimate when you're on holiday. Click into a secure site (like a bank account or social media profile) while your phone is connected to them automatically. You may get malware infections or identity theft if you log in.

Resting, Relaxing, and Browsing

When we're on holiday, most of our time is spent on the internet in our hotel rooms, hostels, or campsites. You might just be checking up on your social media pages before going to bed, but you could also be binging Netflix. If you've got nice lodgings and enough bandwidth, it may seem similar to being at home – but don't forget that you aren't and that cyber thieves can catch you out if you're unaware of some of the following security issues.

Take A Break from Social Media

It's impossible to avoid bragging about your holiday when you're looking forward to having it booked, and a little modest bragging never killed anybody. Posting about it is unavoidable when you're eager to schedule your vacation. However, a genuinely innocent post meant for friends or family may also indicate that you'll be away for an extended period. A cybercriminal could use this knowledge to try to rob you, catch you in person, disrupt your plans, or even defraud your family and friends into sending them money by claiming that you're "in trouble" somewhere. It's all too simple for a cybercriminal to commit identity fraud if you give away too much information about your approaching holiday – like the itinerary, flight details, or lodging specifics. Avoid uploading snaps and videos until you've returned home if possible.

Remove Geotags from Photos

Although geotagging may seem like a small feature, it is one of those unassuming yet important functions that people take for granted until hackers use them to their advantage. Of course, letting everyone know where you are in your photographs is a privacy concern that aids the bad guys' efforts, and they can quickly determine whether you're at home or not by looking at them. When you're on vacation, it's especially important to be safe. The last thing any woman wants when she's away on holiday is to be mugged or harassed by a hacker. To remove geotags from your photographs and allow you to post them anonymously, update your phone settings.

Keep Track of All Your Transactions

Carrying around a credit or debit card is much safer than lugging wads of cash with you on vacation. If you make any purchases using your card, no matter how small, check your online banking account when you return to the hotel room. Examine your transactions for anything you didn't authorize, anything that doesn't match up with your receipts, or anything you don't recognize. Tell your bank about any of these events. Examining your spending at the end of each day not only helps you stay one step ahead of potential criminal activity, but it may also help you avoid making impulsive purchases!

Non-ATM Cash Options

Covering the keypad with your hand when inputting your PIN at an ATM used to be enough to keep yourself safe, but not anymore. Nowadays, criminals have evolved their methods for stealing people's money from ATMs. ATM skimmers are one of the most common scams. They're placed inside the machine and record your card information in real-time as you use it. Obviously, there's nothing any individual can do to prevent this, and we all rely on ATMs from time to time, but when it comes to vacations, it's better to minimize your dependence. Bring some cash with you and plan your trips online; pay for what you can with a credit card if necessary.

Be Cautious When Surfing The Web

To protect yourself online, only use sites that have a padlock in the address bar and begin with "HTTPS." These sites utilize encryption to prevent your personal information from being hacked; however, even these aren't guaranteed. When using public WiFi, never log into anything sensitive, such as your email or banking account. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your traffic if you must. Many smartphones have this feature built-in; otherwise, free and paid VPN services are available online.

Make Sure You Log Out

Before you leave your hotel or Air BNB, double-check that you've logged out of every smart device in the room. A lot of hotels and Air BNBs let guests use Smart speakers, lights, or even TVs that come with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming apps installed on them – it's easy to log in and stream content just as if you were at home. However, make sure the next guest doesn't find that you're still logged into their devices!

Use MDM for Mobile Devices

A mobile device management solution (MDM) can help you track multiple employee-owned devices and keep them secure. MDMs usually include security features like data encryption, remote lock/wipe, and app sandboxing. This way, you can be sure that work-related information stays accessible only to authorized personnel.

With these comprehensive solutions, you can remotely control and monitor your devices, set up company-wide policies, and secure employee data-- even on personal devices used for work.

With these remote features, you can track the device's location and usage history. If it falls into the wrong hands, you can remotely lock the device or wipe its data clean.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Device Has Been Compromised?

Compromised devices can be a serious security risk. If you think your device may have been compromised, follow these steps to help keep your data safe:

  • Change all your passwords immediately - This includes any accounts linked to your devices, such as email or social media accounts.
  • Run a virus scan on your device - This will help identify and remove any malicious software that may be present on your system.
  • Update all of your software programs - Keeping everything up-to-date will help ensure that vulnerabilities are patched and prevent new ones from being exploited.
  • Back up important files stored on your device - If you need to factory reset or restore your system, backups will help preserve critical data like photos or documents.

Wrapping Up

No matter where you travel, it's important to stay secure online. Following the tips in this article can help protect yourself from hackers, identity thieves, and other online threats. 

Although it may seem like a hassle, you are keeping your data safe when you travel is crucial. You can protect yourself from potential disasters by taking preventative measures before you leave— such as regularly backing up your files and encrypting your devices. Additionally, using a VPN or other security measures on public WiFi networks is easy and only takes a couple of clicks. Creating strong passwords may be the simplest task of all!

You don't have to be a security expert to protect your data on the road. But you do need to take some basic precautions, and you need to understand how they work. This guide has covered everything you need to know about keeping your data safe when you travel.

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