Safety is always a big priority when traveling abroad, and everyone knows the importance of being vigilant and aware of your surroundings; of protecting yourself against tourist scams and threats.
But while most people worry about their vacation being ruined by thieves, or hospital visits, most people don’t think twice about cyber threats.
While it’s obviously important to care about your physical safety, these days you’re actually much more vulnerable to online threats than you are being mugged on the street. Because personal data has become far more valuable than your wallet.
When you consider that the personal data held on just one of your devices includes usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, flight details, logins, etc having this information stolen is quite the nightmare situation.
So without getting too complicated, we’re covering today some of the basics – straightforward, easy steps you should be taking to protect your personal data, every time you travel.
The Basics For Keeping Your Personal Data Safe While Traveling Abroad
Turn Off Automatic Bluetooth
Bluetooth is a wonderful tool that allows for the hands-free operation of any number of electronics right when we need them most. However, it also can be used to hack into your device and steal your personal data.
Think of bluetooth as a digital entrance to your device – much like the door to your home. If you leave it on, hackers can connect to your device and access the information on it, downloading the data before you go out of range. They can also make calls, send texts, and access the internet via your device.
This is actually a roaring trade, and bluetooth hackers have been known to set up specialised hardware and software that search for vulnerable devices with an active Bluetooth connection. It’s usually in busy areas – let’s say, an airport, or a hotel, or a railway station.
Visit any of those places while traveling?
What makes this even more dangerous is that you’re not given any warning of having been hacked, unlike if you were physically mugged; you won’t actually know in this case that you’ve been assaulted.
So, use it when you need to, and make sure it’s off when you’re not. Turn off automatic Bluetooth connectivity for safer on-the-go electronics usage. This should also save a ton of battery on your devices.
Don’t Connect Without a VPN
The number one risk to your online security is connecting to public WiFi. And we get it, it’s easy and tempting to hook up to the public Wi-Fi connections available at coffee shops, retail stores, and in many other public places these days.
Especially when you’re traveling, we’ve come to expect free WiFi at airports, hotels, and cafes.
But don’t do it. At least not without a VPN.
The simple fact is, that if you’re traveling and connecting to public WiFi without a VPN, there’s a very good chance you could be hacked. Most of the public networks you connect to aren’t safe, they’re often open networks that allow anyone using them to access your information.
And like bluetooth hackers, criminals are now exploiting this vulnerability, and setting up WiFi hotspots specifically to trick people into connecting is nowadays, a pretty common trap.
If you need to connect to a public Wi-Fi network, make sure you use a VPN to secure that connection.
When you use a VPN it encrypts your traffic before it reaches your ISP, which means that only you and your VPN server can “see” it. So it’s essentially a middle man between you and the internet: you’re able to browse the internet anonymously by connecting through a secure network.
Check Important Accounts Regularly
It’s a great idea to make a routine out of checking on your most important accounts, and if you’re traveling overseas, it’s a good idea to do this daily. This includes financial accounts like online banking, emails, and social media.
It’s vital to check on this because these are the accounts most likely to be targeted by suspicious characters. And the sooner you catch fraudulent activity, the sooner it can be resolved.
Cyber criminals stealing your data are hoping you don’t notice that they’re subtly racking up credit card transactions, or sending spam emails from your account to your contacts, and the longer it goes unnoticed, the worse the situation will get.
So check on your accounts often – obviously, while using a VPN to secure your internet connection!
If you’re logging into online accounts from overseas, it’s a good idea to notify any institutions that may block your access due to suspicious activity – like banks.
Enable Strong Passwords
It’s amazing in today’s day and age that more people don’t protect their smartphones with passwords and pin numbers. This is something so basic, and so easy to set up, yet many people don’t actually use it.
It only takes just a few extra seconds to type in a password, but the security difference is enormous. Password protection is security 101, and the first line of defense to protect your data if your tech is lost or stolen.
Better yet, most modern phones and laptops now have biometric identification like a fingerprint swipe, which makes it even tougher for other people to get in.
Not only does this protect your data from crimes like identity theft, it also means you have a higher chance of finding or recovering the device after it’s lost or stolen. If someone grabs your tech and realizes they can’t use it, they’re likely to discard it and try again for an easier target.
Make sure passwords you use are unusual, by using a combination of letters, numbers and / or special characters. A strong password is considered to be 8 characters or more. Use acronyms for things instead of full words, and change your password frequently – at least once every 6 months.