Cybersecurity While You’re Traveling


December 20, 2018

When people think about taking a trip to somewhere like Cancun, their minds turn to the excitement and fun related to their destination. For those of us with security on the brain, we often focus on physical security. Physical security and personal well-being should always be the primary focus of any security plan. However, your security plan isn’t complete without looking at your cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity matters in every facet of our lives. Whether we’re in our homes, offices, classrooms, or traveling. When considering your personal cybersecurity, you should look at the various factors that make up your cybersecurity profile. The main areas of concern are our

  • mobile and electronic devices
  • software and applications(apps)
  • Internet connections
  • bank cards

It’s important to practice safe online behavior and secure our Internet-enabled mobile devices whenever we travel, as well. The more we access the Internet abroad, the more cyber risks we face. No one is exempt from the threat of cybercrime, at home or on the go.

Before You Travel

Take steps to secure your devices and your personally identifiable information (PII) or sensitive personal information (SPI) before you travel. You’ll want to leave any electronic equipment you don’t need during your trip at home. If you do take it – protect it. Be sure you follow these tips on safety:

Update Your Mobile Software

Treat your mobile device like you would your home or work computer. Keep your operating system software and apps updated. The phone manufacturers push out updates to increase your device’s ability to defend against malware. Ensure you have antivirus software and that the software is up-to-date.

Use a Strong Password

Always use a strong password with at least 12 characters. A strong, complex password includes numbers, symbols, capital letters, and lowercase letters. Use a mix of different types of characters to make the password harder to crack.

Back Up Your Information and Remove Sensitive Data

You’ll want to back up your contacts, photos, videos and other mobile-device data with another device or cloud service. If you don’t actually need it on your phone or tablet, delete before your trip.

Keep Your Phone Locked

Get into the habit of locking your device when you aren’t using it. Stepping away, even for a few minutes, gives someone enough time to steal or destroy your information. Using strong PINs and passwords will help to keep your information safe.

Don’t Announce Your Plans on Social Media

Don’t announce your upcoming travel plans or the dates you’ll be gone on social media sites. It’s basically tempting criminals to stop by your house and break in while you’re gone. Post your travel pics when you get back. They’ll still be cool.

While You’re There

Be vigilant about where and how you use your devices, and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Make sure you:

Physically Protect Your Devices

Use a Privacy Screen on Your Laptop

Be aware of your surroundings. Using a privacy screen ensures people can’t just steal your information at a glance.

Thieves Love to Steal Phones

Never leave your mobile devices–including any USB or external storage devices–unattended in a public place. Keep your devices secured in taxis, at airports, on airplanes, and in your hotel room. You don’t want the thief to make off with your phone and all of your personal information. We don’t usually realize exactly how much of our lives we keep in our phones until they’re gone.

Thieves often target travelers. Thieves will check hotel rooms for unattended laptops during mealtimes. If you keep your phone on the table while you’re eating, a nimble-handed thief can easily slip it into their pocket.

If you are attending a conference or trade show, be especially wary — these venues offer thieves a wider selection of devices that may contain sensitive information. Not to mention, the conference sessions offer more opportunities for thieves to access guest rooms.

Don’t Share Your Phone, No Matter How Good the Story Is

You may be approached by strangers with sob stories about losing their phone (or having it stolen). They just need to “borrow yours to call for help”. Never let strangers “borrow” your phone or any other device. A skilled cybercriminal only needs a few moments to install malware, access financial apps, or to simply run away and disappear into a crowd.

Be Cautious When Charging Your Mobile Device

Avoid connecting your phone or tablet to any computer or charging station that you don’t control. A charging station at an airport terminal or a shared computer at a library are both great examples of what NOT to use. Connecting to a computer using a USB cable can allow software running on that computer to interact with the phone in ways that you don’t want. A malicious computer could gain access to your sensitive data or install new software.

Protect Your Devices in Cyberspace

Cyber Thieves Sit and Wait for You to Connect

Disable remote connectivity and Bluetooth. When your phone automatically connects to your home network, that’s convenient. When it automatically connects to a strange network, that’s dangerous. These days, cybercriminals have devices that can mimic your home network, tricking your phone into connecting. Bluetooth enables your device to connect wirelessly with other devices, such as headphones or automobile infotainment systems. Disable these features so that you only connect to wireless and Bluetooth networks when you want to.

Before you connect to any public wireless hotspot – like on an airplane or in an airport, hotel, train/bus station or café – confirm the name of the network and exact login with the staff to ensure that the network is legitimate. Don’t conduct sensitive activities, such as online shopping, banking, or sensitive work, using a public wireless network. Only use sites that begin with “https://” when shopping online or banking. Using your mobile network connection is generally more secure than using a public wireless network.

Use caution when downloading or clicking on any unknown links. Delete emails that are suspicious or are from unknown sources. Review and understand the details of an application before installing.

Publicly accessible computers

Hotel business centers, libraries, and cyber cafes provide computers that anyone can use. However, travelers can’t trust that these computers. They may not run the latest operating systems or have updated anti-virus software. Cybercriminals may have infected these machines with malicious viruses or install malicious software.

When You Get Home

If you picked up any electronics during your trip, they might be compromised. If you connected with local networks abroad, your phone and other devices might be infected with malware.

  • Update your anti-malware solution and run manual scans on your devices to check for any uninvited guests you may have picked up on the road.
  • If you bought devices abroad, check them for compliance and whether they’re compromised. In some countries, devices are sold with monitoring software pre-installed.
  • Check your bank account for any unexpected withdrawals or spending. Warn your bank or credit card provider if you suspect foul play or if you lost sight of your credit card at some point. It’s especially important to do this if you suspect your login credentials were stolen.
  • As an extra precaution, you may want to change the passwords that you used during your time away. If someone managed to get ahold of one during your trip, you’ll stop them from doing any damage with a changed password.

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About The Author

Dave Husler

Dave Husler has over 20 years of military and civilian experience in international security. He developed a love of languages and foreign cultures as a linguist in the US Army and gained a strong foundation of analytic skills while earning a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University in Bethesda, Maryland. He has enjoyed adventures in over 20 countries. His passion is traveling with his family, experiencing different cultures, and helping others to have adventures of their own.