Whether you're heading for a family trip this Christmas or a quick New Year getaway, it's easy to forget to secure your devices and data amidst the festivities. Snoopers, lurking on public networks at airports, tampered USB charging points and personal updates across our social media platforms can all pose risks to the security of our personal data.
Lucky for you, it's also never been more convenient to secure your digital information, so you don't need to be on a forced digital detox. With apps available to mask your personal information, browsers that protect your browsing habits, and just some simple settings that your phone and laptop allow you to change, you can easily keep your data safe while on vacation.
Here are a few easy-to-execute steps from Barry Cook, Privacy and Group Data Protection Officer at visa service provider VFS Global, that will help you keep your data safe this Christmas and New Year.
1. There's no such thing as free Wi-Fi
While it may be tempting to log on to that free Wi-Fi network when you're waiting for your flight or train - you're giving hackers who impersonate Wi-Fi, an easy opportunity to harvest your personal data or insert malware on your device. Although it's safer to use data on your cellular network, if logging on to a public Wi-Fi seems unavoidable, you can safeguard your data and browsing activity by enabling firewalls on your device, using a VPN service to shield your IP address, only use sites with the protocol "https" and avoid accessing sensitive details (i.e. banking) while on shared or public networks.
2. Keep your bank in the loop
This simple step is often overlooked by travellers - inform your bank when you're vacationing. Most banking apps today have an encrypted messaging feature that will allow you to do this. This quick and largely painless action before a trip can help nip potential credit or debit card fraud in the bud and allow you to access your money without the fear, and headache, of limitations being imposed on your account.
3. Lock your devices down
Most smartphones, laptops, and tablets today are equipped with fingerprint IDs or PIN numbers for device security. Installing passwords on all your devices is your first line of defense against a data breach while you're in the holiday spirit. It ensures that your personal data is much harder to get to even if your device is left unattended or stolen. Also, consider using one of the password management tools so that you can have different passwords for each log-in and they make logging-in really simple too.
4. Update your operating systems
One way that hackers use to get to your data is by looking for vulnerabilities in your operating system and apps. By keeping your device up to date, you ensure that these holes are patched with the latest version of the software, making it a much harder job for anyone looking to scrape your data.
5. Stay away from public charging kiosks
A USB port doesn't just transmit power, it also transfers data - making it an ideal hotspot for accessing personal data or introducing malwares to your device. Termed "juice-jacking", it can lock devices and transfer data directly to the third-party, from unsuspecting users at public charging kiosks. Your best bet is to carry your own charger or power bank, and if you think your power bank might run out of juice, get a USB charge-only adapter, that allows only power to transfer to your phone.
6. Disable auto-connect and Bluetooth features
It's great to have your phone Bluetooth connect to your car or home the moment you walk in. It's not so great, however, when you're on holiday and a stranger in your hotel lobby connects to your phone Bluetooth and gain access to your phone without your knowledge. Avoiding this is pretty easy - turn off the auto-connect feature in your Bluetooth settings, and you'll be safe from any mishaps on your vacation.
Also, if you connect your device to a hire car remember to delete the information from the hire car before you give it back.
7. Lay low on social media
Broadcasting your exotic vacations online might earn you some social media currency, but it's not worth the potential hassle that might accompany it. By signaling your location, you make it known to criminals that you are not at your home or hotel room, and that your personal belongings may be an easy target. So limit your social media exposure while on vacation - and catch up on Instagram uploads once you're back home.
With just a little planning and by following these simple practices, you can be certain that your digital memories will last far beyond this festive season. Have a restful and cyber-secure festive break!