Thinking back 10 years to when I first began my travels, the type of crime I was worried about was being mugged or assaulted. And as a solo traveler, I was also admittedly on edge after having watched the terrifying blockbuster Hostel. But the type of crime that travelers encounter has changed a lot since then, and one of the biggest risks we face today is cyber crime.
Now that travelers are dependent on the internet, this has become a major threat. And, with the amount of data we keep on our devices—credit card information, bank accounts, and passwords—cyber crime is a highly lucrative business.
So just as you would protect your bags from pickpockets, it’s important to protect your electronics from cyber crime. We often let our guard down when we’re away on holiday, but that makes us even easier targets.
Use long, strong, unique passwords
A password protecting your electronics is security 101. But the biggest mistake people make is choosing their pet’s name, or using their birthday—information which is easily found on your Facebook page, for example.
You should set long, strong, and unique passwords for each of your devices. This is the first line of defense to protect your data if anything is lost or stolen. Your password should be unusual and at least 8 characters, with a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
If your phone has biometric identification (a fingerprint swipe), this is even better. And while it’s obvious that you should never give out your password, a common mistake travelers make is failing to properly log out at an internet café. Fortunately, the gentleman who found himself logged into my Facebook account in Prague only made a couple of status updates!
Always install updates
While it might seem like your computer nags you more than your mother, it’s incredibly important that you always install new updates.
Updates on an operating system or application usually patch security issues, meaning you’re more vulnerable to cyber crime if you’re running an old version. This is one of the easiest ways to avoid malware on your devices.
But it’s also important to regularly back up your files. Of all the viruses I could have picked up in Africa, none of my immunizations prevented my laptop fatality. So make sure you keep copies of everything important (your flight details, itinerary, copies of your passport) on an external storage drive.
Use a high-quality VPN
Ideally, avoid unsecured public WiFi hotspots. However, that’s not always possible when you’re traveling. Whether you’re connecting at the airport, the hotel, or a café, the convenience of unsecured networks remains far too tempting.
But public networks are extremely vulnerable to hacking, and technically, anyone using the same network can easily see your data—passwords, credit cards, photos of your pets, and so on. So it’s essential that travelers use Hotspot Shield VPN to protect their devices. Hotspot Shield encrypts your traffic so that people using the same network won’t be able to access your information, or even detect your presence.
I’ve found this absolutely essential as I have friends who have been victims of identity theft; criminals set up free public networks in popular tourist areas specifically to trap unsuspecting travelers.
Censor what you post online
Take a minute to think about how much of your data you make public. Your location? Your habits? Your plans? Disclosing this type of information, and posting real-time updates when you’re traveling, makes you vulnerable to cyber crime like theft and stalking.
But there’s also the very real potential for someone to use the fact that you’re traveling as an invitation to rob your house. Before every trip, I check my social media privacy settings to ensure my personal and private information is locked down. If I have to post live social media updates (as an online travel blogger, it’s my job), I will usually exclude these posts from being shown to people who live in my town.
Think about it this way: if you wouldn’t walk around wearing a T-shirt with your full name, home address, email, phone number, and next destination, this information shouldn’t be publically available on your social media accounts.
Don’t click on links in emails from people you don’t know
The simplest way travelers get hacked is by clicking on links in emails or downloading unexpected attachments. And criminals are getting savvy; beyond the Prince of Nigeria willing to pay you 20 million dollars, I’ve received emails which try to imitate PayPal, my bank, and some which say that my email will be shut down if I don’t log in again. As a traveler, it can be scary to think that you’re going to lose access to your email or online banking, but this is always a scam. Legitimate businesses like a bank will never ask you for security details or request that you transfer money to a different account.
Don’t download anything you receive if you’re unable to verify the source, and be highly cautious of what you click on if an email is unsolicited.
With all that said, don’t forget to enjoy your trip. While the threat of cyber crime is ever present, by remaining vigilant you can protect your sensitive data and dramatically reduce your risk of becoming a victim. After all, you shouldn’t have to worry about hackers. Your only concern should be about what fantastic Mediterranean restaurant you’re going to eat at next.