5 Tips For Staying Cyber-Secure On Your Summer Vacation

Stick with mobile payment apps and carrier networks when traveling. And don't broadcast your plans or locations via social media.

Emily Johnson, Digital Content Editor, InformationWeek

June 20, 2016

4 Min Read

Summer is officially here, and with that comes vacation season. But before you go, make sure you’re following these simple steps to stay cyber-secure while you soak up the sun:

1. Don’t broadcast your plans or location.

It can be fun to share vacation locales (impending or while you’re there) on social media. Passive aggressively making all of your colleagues, family, and friends jealous that you’re drinking mojitos and digging your toes in the sand feels good. We get it. But here’s the problem: if your privacy settings aren’t configured correctly, it won’t just be your colleagues, family, and friends who know where you are (and that you probably just connected to a very insecure network to post that picture of your hot dog legs against the ocean). Lock down your social networks so only people you know and trust can see your posts. 

Just like burglars, cybercriminals watch for people that are going out of town and use that information to their advantage. For example, some of the devastating business email-compromise attacks that have recently caused some companies millions of dollars were successful because attackers knew precisely when company executives would be out of town. 

Not broadcasting your plans or location while on vacation, or rather being careful about who you share this information with, is an important step, especially if you’re an executive or if your photo and other information about you resides on the company's public website. 

Keeping your location on lockdown can also be a tricky thing to control if you have young, social media-obsessed children, so it’s important to explain to them the risks of broadcasting one’s location over social media (this isn’t just a cybersecurity issue, of course). Jerry Irvine, CIO of Prescient Solutions, says to “tighten down your social media so that only your friends can see your information, not your friends’ friends.” 

2.  Update your operating systems.

Step two of preparing for your summer vacation is to make sure all of your devices are running the most up-to-date operating systems. “Hackers get in because of vulnerabilities, phishing scams or drive-bys first, and then have access because of vulnerabilities [from not updating your operating system]. If you keep your systems up-to-date, it’s less likely they’ll get in,” Irvine says.

3. Pass on WiFi and use phone carrier networks instead.

If you have the dollars, update your plan to be able to roam internationally, or if traveling domestically, connect directly to the phone carrier network for internet access rather than using a public WiFi connection. Connecting to 4G or LTE is more secure than using public WiFi, says Irvine.

Better yet -- but less realistic -- stay off the internet while you vacation.

4. Turn off automatic-connect Bluetooth and WiFi settings.

Technically, this should be on your checklist every time you leave your home or office, but while on vacation, the rule is even more important. Make sure your devices are not set to automatically connect to Bluetooth and WiFi hotspots. 

“Hackers can get into your devices just by walking by,” says Irvine, noting that Bluetooth signals can reach out 30- to 60 feet or more, depending on the type of antenna. The average Bluetooth password is usually very insecure, either "000" or "111," so thus easily cracked, he notes. 

5.  Use mobile payment applications where you can.

According to an iovation study released last week, travel transactions from a mobile device were 14% higher during summer months compared to the rest of 2015, and 40% higher than the summer of 2014. In addition, online fraud originating from a mobile device increased 18% during an average summer month in 2015. 

Despite this increase in mobile fraud, Irvine recommends that vacationers use mobile payment applications wherever they can. 

Paying with apps such as Apple Pay and Android Pay work similarly to the new chip technology in that they only transmit a transaction number, not all of your account information. And all of the information in these apps is encrypted, making them more secure than swiping a card through a magnetic strip. And if you lose your phone, the hacker will need to know your phone password and your payment app password in order to access your account. If a cybercriminal gets a hold of your physical payment cards, they have all the information they need right there, especially if it's a credit card and a PIN is not required. 

If you use mobile payment apps, always keep your phone’s operating system up-to-date, and don't use the same PIN for your phone and payment app, Irvine says. If you can add an additional level of authentication with biometrics, that's a good practice as well, he says.

Now that you know some key ways to stay secure while on vacation, have fun, and safe -- and secure -- travels. 

Black Hat USA returns to the fabulous Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada July 30 through Aug. 4, 2016. Click for information on the conference schedule and to register.


About the Author(s)

Emily Johnson

Digital Content Editor, InformationWeek

Emily Johnson is the digital content editor for InformationWeek. Prior to this role, Emily worked within UBM America's technology group as an associate editor on their content marketing team. Emily started her career at UBM in 2011 and spent four and a half years in content and marketing roles supporting the UBM America's IT events portfolio. Emily earned her BA in English and a minor in music from the University of California, Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter @gold_em.

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