Make your travel safe, free of cyber attacks

Travel is among life’s greatest pleasures, but it can also become a horror story if the traveller is unprepared. A few simple, preparatory steps before your journey combined with knowledge and vigilance during your trip can make the difference between a pleasant experience and a personal or professional cyber disaster.

Preparation is the key. While the cyber security basics practiced at home will be the same during your journey, travelling does open up new opportunities for cyber-attacks, cyber theft and loss, or compromise of personal devices. Make a quick reviewing of your cyber security procedures, then expand on them by conducting a quick risk assessment using these questions.

What information will I be carrying with me that will need to be protected? This is an important item to consider if you will be travelling for business and have sensitive client information with you, including names, addresses, phone numbers, business account numbers and credit card numbers.

Consider storing important data separately on a CD, or USB device, then keeping it in a separate location apart from your laptop or mobile device. Should physical theft occur, thieves would not have access to your sensitive, protected information.

Should I encrypt sensitive files? Encryption safeguards data from unauthorised access even if the information is stolen. However, encryption can be a double-edged sword. If you forget your encryption passw-ord, you will not be able to access your data.

Do I have an inventory of all my mobile devices and equipment to be carried on my journey? Mobile devices and laptops should be physically carried with you and not placed in unaccompanied baggage, where it is a target for either physical or cyber theft. Know what you have so you leave nothing behind in hotels, at airports, or in public transportation.

Be sure you take actions outlined in the following steps in addition to correcting any of the risk items that you may have noted.

Update software on your mobile devices. We are often quite diligent about maintaining antivirus software on our desktop and laptop computers, but often forget about our mobile devices. It’s vital that you keep your operating system software and applications up-to-date. This simple precaution will improve your device’s ability to defend against malware.

Know your applications and review their access on your device. A recent study deter-mined that 98% of applications currently in use for our mobile devices have vulnerabilities. We often install new applications without consideration of their access to our loca-tion, contacts, and the capability to independently update our mobile devices. Understand that each application access point may provide an opportunity for cyber-attack.

Backup your information. This should be a routine part of your home cyber security process, but becomes even more important before you travel, as your data such as contacts, photos, videos and other mobile device data will be more exposed during your journey. Also, if you don’t need the data, don’t take it.

Lock your device. If you are not already doing so, start the habit of locking your device when not in use. Just a few moments of an open, unattended device can give cyber thieves the opportunity they need to steal or destroy your information. Use strong pins and passwords to lock it. Considered developing a personal rubric, which is easy for you to remember, and which can be used for encrypting personal passwords.

One of the most common password number sequences used on mobile and for credit cards is the number sequence 2580, or its reverse 0852, since these numbers are linear on our devices and easy to see and recall. Try adding a personal number to each number of the sequence and use the last digit as your new passcode. For example, if my personal number is “3” my new passcode for the sequence “2580” becomes, “5813.”

With our preparations complete, and our mobile devices in hand, it’s time to start our journey. Remember your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device is a full-fledged computer, and must be treated with even more concern for online risks in shopping, banking, enjoying social media, or sharing personal information online. Be diligent! You are now dealing with both physical and cyber security concerns.

Wi-Fi networks
Public Precautions. Avoid using open Wi-Fi networks to conduct personal business, banking, or online shopping. Open Wi-Fi networks enable attackers to intercept sensitive information. If it absolutely must be done, turn off your device’s Wi-Fi and use the cellular data connection instead, as this provides far more security than open access, unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Turn off Bluetooth enabled accessories. While Bluetooth devices can be helpful, cyber criminals have the capability to pair with your device and steal personal information. Public charging of your device can also lead to a compromise of data. If you connect to a public charging station such as those provided at airports, it is possible that the USB cable can allow software running on that system to enter your device, gain access to your information, or install malicious software. Carrying your own external battery charger is the safest way to go.

Be vigilant when logging into devices in airports, hotels, or public transportation. Guard your username and password from view. Also, safeguard your laptop securely when not in your hotel room. Never leave your laptop running in the room, even if you depart for only a few minutes. Thieves may have access to the room and could quickly connect and download your data.

Also remember to safeguard your boarding pass to prevent access to personal information within the barcodes. By observing a few key precautions, and maintaining vigilance, you’ll be able to delight in your journey. Bon voyage!

(Iyengar is a distinguished Ryder Professor and Director, School of Computing and Information Sciences, Miami; Miller has been with US Air Force for over two decades and is Coordinator, Discovery Lab, Florida International University)

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