SCAM ALERT Vacations are not the time to relax your personal safety, including taking internet security precautions. Everyday, it seems, we hear about hacking, identity theft or some other invasion of our digital privacy.
Here’s how to protect your online life from cyber criminals while you are away from home for the holidays, or any time.
Before You Go
Patch Up. Check all your electronic devices for software updates – both devices staying at home and those going on the trip with you. Not running the latest system updates is like leaving your front door unlocked for cyber crooks to enter. Operating system security holes that could have easily been patched with a quick click can leave you vulnerable to hacks.
Remove Data. Backing up is always important, especially before you travel. Remove unnecessary sensitive data from your devices before the trip including photos, videos, financial documents and stored passwords. That can save you from heartache and headaches if your devices are breached, stolen or misplaced on the road.
Wipe Your History. Clear your browser cache files and remove saved passwords, especially private information such as bank access, work emails and photos. That way you protect your most important data in case you accidentally connect to an unsecure Wi-Fi network while travelling.
Fake It. Create temporary passwords for sites you plan to access while travelling. It is estimated that 60% of people use the same password, or a variation of one, for every account. If you get hacked while traveling, having a temporary “throwaway” password for email or social media will help protect you if your home accounts were compromised. And you can always change it back when you return home.
Freeze Your Credit. The recent massive Equifax data breach puts your credit history and vital personal information at risk to hackers. Checking your credit history is a good idea anytime, especially now, and especially before you leave on a trip. The three credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion allow you to freeze your information so nobody can open a credit card in your name while you are on the road.
- Advice from the Federal Trade Commission on how to protect your identity from the Equifax data breach.
On the Road
Pay Up. Avoid free public Wi-Fi networks that are often unsecure. It could end up costing you a lot more in the long run if a hacker has set up a benign looking “free” network to read everything on your computer, including your passwords.
Browse Safely. Make sure use a secured connection to websites. Look for a simple “s” (https:// instead of http://) in your web browser’s URL bar, to protect you from most threats on line threats. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a free utility that will automatically use a secure connection for you.
Double Down. Enable two-factor authentication on your important web services, such as email and social media accounts. That way, if someone does gain access to your passwords they need a second code to get in. Click here for guidelines for setting up two-factor authentication
Privatize. For additional security when using public Wi-Fi network at an airport, or even a semi-private one at your hotel, consider adding a VPN, which creates an encrypted connection to a third-party server, and all your Internet traffic is routed through that server. Snoopers will only see encrypted data. Several VPN services, like the one I used on a recent trip to China, offer free 30-day trials, which covers all but the longest vacations, and one VPN account will serve both your laptop or tablet and your mobile phone..
Share Wisely. While it is tempting to post about a vacation on social media or keep a blog about your adventures to stay in touch with family and friends, resist the urge. Every tidbit of information you share publicly online is a breadcrumb criminals can use to piece together a snapshot of your life that can lead to them to cracking your passwords and hacking your digital accounts.
Shut Down. Switch off the wireless connection on your phone, tablet and laptop when they are not in use. Turning off the connection is another step in protecting your digital identity, because it prevents criminals to automatically connect to your device on an open network without you ever knowing what happened. You’ll also save battery power, and expensive roaming charges.
After Returning Home
Sweep Clean. Running a security sweep when you get home is a wise precaution. Check your computer and other devices for spyware, malware, and viruses. One indication that malware could be infecting your electronics is an increase in memory use or data use that cannot be otherwise explained.
Order a Credit Report. Whether or not you think you’ve been a victim of identity fraud, Federal law entitles you to one FREE credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Order a FREE credit report here
This article was published originally in March 2017, and updated for the holiday travel season.