Vacations are not the time to relax your personal safety, including taking internet security precautions.
Everyday, it seems, we hear about hacking, doxxing, 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 on spring break, summer vacation, the holidays, or any time.
Shopping Scams to Avoid
Avoiding Identity Theft Before You Go
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. Update your devices with the latest security patches so you are less vulnerable to hacks.
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 un-secure Wi-Fi network while traveling.
Create temporary passwords for sites you plan to access while traveling. 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.
Or, invest in password manager software.
Freeze Your Credit
The massive Equifax data breach several years ago – and smaller ones since then, including hotels and even fast food chains – may have put 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 a data breach.
Scam Alert: Marriott Security Breach
Scam Alert: Jimmy John’s Credit Card Breach
Avoiding Identity Theft On the Road
Avoid free public Wi-Fi networks that are often un-secure, including at airports.
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.
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.
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
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 pre-pandemic 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.
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.
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.
Avoiding Identity Theft After You Return Home
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. Make it part of your end-of-the-year routine.
Order a FREE credit report here
Avoiding Identity Theft Any Time
This became big news recently, when Twitter owner Elon Musk banned several accounts for tweeting public information about him, specifically, the location of his private plane.
Doxxing is publication of private information online, even if it is public information, such as FAA records. Hackers look for personal data, to use to steal your identity.
These tips are from cybersecurity company Malwarebytes are a guide of what to do if you think you’ve been compromised:
- Take screenshots, including the date and URL of the offending pages, to collect evidence, even if the content involves something you regret.
- Report doxxing to the platforms publishing the data and ask them to remove it.
- Report the event to law enforcement.
- Freeze your credit reports, place fraud alerts, and deactivate your credit cards if someone posts your financial data.
- Keep an eye on your credit reports for any red flags.
- Change all your login credentials and enable two-factor authentication to protect your accounts.
- Set sophisticated passwords and use a password manager for help.
- Use an anti-malware tool to scan for privacy-invading malware like spyware, stalkerware, and keyloggers that can help a bad actor steal your personal information.
- Report any harassment to the authorities.
- Consider changing your phone number or address if the harassment is intolerable.
This article was published originally in March 2017, and
updated and republished regularly for peak travel seasons, including 2023.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA) and is a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW)
Contact me at email@example.com.
Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter
Kirk W. says
I downloaded ExpressVPN before my trip to China last month. Pretty sure I’m going to update my subscription to cover me through the year. Planning on buying lots of stuff online 🙂