Cyber Security Tips for a Safer and Happier Summer Vacation

Good adviceTo stay connected while travelling today, there are certainly a lot of gadgets and devices to choose from. But whether it’s a smartphone, laptop, notebook, tablet, all-in-one or any combination, you still need access to the Internet. That’s where things can get dicey, because there really are unsavory elements out there that specialize in preying on unsuspecting travelers in unfamiliar surroundings just trying to get “connected.” Whether it’s getting some work done while on vacation (hopefully not), staying connected with family and friends, or just surfing the Web, hackers know you want to connect and they will do their best to get in the middle of those plans so they can access your device and/or important data, not to mention being more than willing to just steal the device itself if they can.

So with June upon us and vacation season right on the horizon, our team at GDF wanted to offer some tips and advice to help keep your sensitive information and personal devices safe from looming threats.

WiFi/Wireless Access

Not everybody has a roaming data plan, so many travelers are looking for the next best thing, a wireless hotspot for Wi-Fi access. Hotels, airports, fast food places, interstate gas stations and a host of other locations can offer Wi-Fi access, often for free, and many desperate travelers will jump on the opportunity. But as these networks are accessible by everyone, they are also highly insecure.

A favorite trick hackers like to use is to set up their own hot spot in the vicinity of another, often using a network name that’s close to what is expected, like a misspelled hotel name, or a series of number after the name. When you search for wireless networks, it comes up on the list and they hope you take the bait. Now they can intercept everything you transmit and receive, our saddle you with malware. So the best rule to follow is this; if you don’t want the information you are transmitting or receiving to be disclosed to an undesired party, don’t send it over a free wireless network. If you do decide to use it anyway, make sure to check with the location offering the wireless connection if multiple hotspots seem to be available so you choose the one they really control.

Shared/Public Computers

So you were trying to unplug from the digital world or had an equipment disaster, whatever the case, you can’t rely on your trusted device to get Internet access and are forced into using a public or shared computer. Assume everything you do can be seen and/or recreated by someone else. Never access sensitive information like bank accounts from a shared or public system. A hacker-installed keylogger, for instance, would allow them to recreate everything you typed in, including user names and passwords. And if you are accessing your accounts from a public system, they know chances are good you are away from home and they will have some time to do what they do before being noticed, and that can prove costly in more ways than one.

Bluetooth Access

Bluetooth is that short-range radio frequency connection often relied on to connect two devices in close proximity, like allowing for hands-free calling from your smartphone while driving. For the connection to work, devices must be paired, which typically requires a user to confirm the attempted pairing, and only once that secure connection is confirmed can data be sent freely between the paired devices. But there are dangers, especially if Bluetooth connectivity settings are not properly configured on the device(s). If your device is set to allow for automatic connections, meaning any Bluetooth network can connect to your device without any confirmation required, anyone could potentially connect to your device without authorization and do what they please, from stealing data, to installing malware. It’s best to disable Bluetooth networking altogether while traveling to thwart unwanted connections, but most importantly – check your connectivity settings before you travel!

Cyber Safety Tips:

  • Password protect your device – otherwise, it is very tempting low-hanging fruit.
  • Make sure your applications and antivirus software are up-to-date before you leave – you don’t want to rely on an unsafe connection while you’re travelling to do it.
  • If possible, install a firewall – this will provide an added layer of protection against unauthorized access.
  • Limit password attempts  – some devices have an option that will erase all data if the password is entered incorrectly 10 times. Enable this option so that if you lose the device, that’s all you’ll lose.
  • Gotcha tools – you may want to look into anti-theft measures, like remote locking and/or tracking. Some even allow you access your device’s camera so you can take video or snapshots through a cloud application – talk about red-handed.
  • Disable your wireless (Wi-Fi) connection when you are not actually using your device to connect to the Internet – better safe than sorry.
  • Bring your charger – don’t charge your devices by plugging into any foreign device. Just plugging into a USB port of a strange device makes you susceptible to malicious software downloads – you don’t even have to click on anything, plugging in is enough.
    Never plug in or load any foreign media – everything from USB sticks and flash drives, to CDs and DVDs, can leave you infected with malware.
  • Contact Details – whether you make a wallpaper screen or include a handwritten note, make sure your local contact information is with your device so it can be returned if someone finds it – yes, it does happen, especially password protected devices.

Different Strokes

Some countries have very different rules when it comes to digital information and privacy. What might be legal in one country, may not be legal in another. Check on the rules of the country you intend to visit, you may find those movies or music you have downloaded on your device can cause you some big problems, and border agents are authorized to seize it if that’s the case. Intellectual property can also be subject to very different rules, so don’t be afraid to contact your embassy for more information before you leave.

Don’t forget about physical security

Smartphones, tablets, notebooks and other digital devices are prime targets for thieves. They are high dollar items that are always in demand and easy to sell. Treat your digital devices like valuable jewelry, don’t let them out of your sight. Lock them up when you are not in the room and don’t leave them charging unattended. It’s also a good idea to always carry your devices with you when flying to reduce the risk of loss or damage. Otherwise, you may be relying on public systems for the duration of your trip if you need to get connected, which is not a good situation to find yourself in unexpectedly.

Last but not least

Back up your data before you leave!

And of course, be safe, and enjoy your travels,

Your team at Global Digital Forensics

We’re always here to help with all of your cyber security, computer forensics and eDiscovery needs, just give us a call at 1 (800) 868-8189, or schedule a free consultation by clicking below.