Keeping Your Data Secure Even on Vacation

Vacation! It’s all we ever wanted, right?

Of course it is! But as you know, while vacation is a blast, it’s not always fun and games. Any time you venture out into the world you’re exposing yourself to new risks. There are things you must plan and account for to ensure you stay safe while you’re off making memories and having the time of your life.

In our highly digital world, one of the things you must account for when it’s time to go on vacation is what you’re going to do with your data. Traveling to new places will put your phone and other devices in the sights of new cybercriminals, many of whom prey on people’s laid-back and aloof attitudes they often adopt while away from home.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are things you can do to keep your data secure even while on vacation, allowing you to relax and enjoy the peace of mind you’ve worked so hard for and deserve so very badly.

Here’s everything you need to know about keeping your data secure while on vacation:

The Risks You Face

To understand why it’s so important to take steps to protect your data even while on vacation, it’s important to know the risks you’re facing. Here are some stats that you should know:

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As you can see, this is not some small thing. Because our lives have become so digital, there is so much information out there that is valuable enough to steal. That means that almost as soon as we develop defenses to keep ourselves safe, they develop new ways of wreaking havoc.

This is not meant to scare you. Not at all. In fact, since we know that most cybersecurity breaches actually come from human error, you can be encouraged by the fact that taking the time to learn about this stuff will likely teach you what you need to know to stay safe. This will allow you to enjoy the benefits of our digital world without having to worry too much about all the risks.

As far as traveling, there are a few things to keep in mind that make things a bit riskier. Again, by educating yourself and also by implementing a few security measures, you can dramatically reduce the chances of having a data breach, allowing you to enjoy your vacation worry-free.

Here are some of the additional risks posed to your data security when you’re on vacation:

 

Unknown WiFi Networks

Perhaps the biggest risk you will face while on vacation will come from public WiFi networks. While super convenient, these networks are actually quite risky. As mentioned earlier, a good many of them don’t use any encryption at all, which means the data you’re passing through the network can be read and understood by anyone looking in.

In addition, public WiFi networks are dangerous because, well, they're public. Unlike your home or office network, which you can keep private by establishing a password and only giving it to people you trust, anyone in the area can connect to a public network, and once they are on the same network as you, it’s much easier for them to access your data.

While at home, you might not bother with public WiFi. When on vacation, especially in a foreign country where you might not have mobile internet, it’s more tempting. But it brings lots of risks.

One thing to remember is that just because you need a password does not mean it’s private. For example, if you connect at a coffee shop using a password, you’re still exposed, for they likely give this password out to anyone who asks for it, which is effectively the same as not having a password at all.

In general, avoid public WiFi when traveling, though there are some things you can do to stay safe in the event you must connect to one of these networks, which we will discuss in more detail in a moment.

Increased Vulnerability to Phishing and Other Scams

Another risk you and your data face when you’re on vacation is your own state of mind. It’s no secret that we go on vacation to disconnect and unwind. In other words, to think less.

This is great for your mental health and overall well-being, but it also leaves you more vulnerable to attacks from hackers. Specifically, it makes you more likely to fall for a phishing scheme, which is the most common and most effective tactic hackers use to steal your information.

For those who don’t know, phishing is when a hacker sends you an email or a text that looks like it’s from a friend or known entity, such as a company with which you do business.

In this message, they will likely claim there is some sort of problem that can only be fixed by forking over your personal information, such as a credit card number or your login information.

You wouldn’t expect this to work, but it does. Quite often in fact.

During your day-to-day life, it might be a lot easier to look past these attempts to convince you to give away sensitive information. But while on vacation, when your guard is down, it’s a lot easier to fall for a trick, or to even just click on something by accident.

Plus, when you’re in a new place, especially if that place is a foreign country, you’re usually more open to trying new things. Maybe someone in the street asks for your phone number to enter you in a contest? Sounds exciting when you’re on vacation, but this could easily lead to a data nightmare.

In the end, despite your relaxed state of mind, your data faces the same risks when you’re on vacation as when home. Therefore, you need to maintain the same level of vigilance as you always would, even though that might require a bit more thinking than you have planned to do on vacation.

Theft of Physical Devices

A lot of the discussion surrounding data security revolves around the data itself – don’t give out your information; use strong passwords; use two-factor authentication, etc.

All of these pieces of advice, while essential, are intended to protect the data stored on your device, not the device itself. But this is an important part of cybersecurity: leave your device in a skilled hacker’s hands for long enough and they will find a way to break in and steal your data.

To be clear, the risk of having your stuff stolen is not any higher while you’re traveling than it is while you’re at home, despite what people will try to tell you. That’s just fear consciousness rearing its head.

However, for the same reason you’re more vulnerable to phishing attacks while on vacation, you are more exposed to the risk of theft while traveling because you’re more likely to let your guard down and, depending on where you go, you stand out from the crowd and appear to be an easy target.

All this means is that you need to take some extra precautions to make sure your stuff is properly protected while you’re on vacation. A few small things can make a world of difference and make it much less likely that your device falls into the wrong hands, leading to a data disaster of epic proportions.

Unknown Attacks

The last major threat you and your data face while you’re on vacation once again relates to the state of mind we often get in when we finally get the chance to step away. While it’s very easy to think life stops when you’re off from work, the reality is that it doesn’t; the world keeps moving forward as it always does.

What this means is that you are at risk of being hacked without having any idea it’s happening. Most systems and services that take your personal information have some sort of safeguard in place to alert you when there is suspicious activity on your account. Typically, they will send you a text message asking you to confirm a transaction or provide a code when you log in.

This is great because if it’s not you behind this activity you can immediately report it, shut down that account, and then start looking for other areas where your data security has been compromised.

However, when you’re on vacation, you’re paying much less attention to all of this, especially if you’re in a foreign country without service to be able to receive text messages.

Therefore, it’s quite possible that you could get hacked and have no idea it’s happening. Then, when you do realize, things may have gotten out of hand, making the recovery process that much more difficult.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot you can do to prevent this, but there are ways you can set yourself up to be safeguarded against anything that might happen while you’re on vacation.

How to Keep Your Data Safe Even While on Vacation

Vacation is supposed to be fun. But, as you can see, mixed in with the good times and happy memories are some real concerns about data security.

Of course, we don’t want you wasting your hard-earned vacation time worrying about cybersecurity, so we’ve put together this list of things you can do to keep your data safe and secure even while on vacation.

Check them out and then head out to enjoy your next vacation worry-free. 

Deal With Reputable Travel Websites

Keeping your data safe while on vacation starts from the very moment you start looking for flights and hotels. As you will likely see, there are hundreds if not thousands of websites out there offering to sell you flights and vacation packages, all at unbelievable prices.

Most of these sites are completely legitimate. Even the dubious-looking ones you find on flight aggregate sites such as Skyscanner are usually fine. The only trade-off for their exceptionally cheap prices is that their customer service department is essentially non-existent. If you have a problem during your trip, you’re basically on your own.

This is frustrating, yes, and makes you wonder if the discount was worth it. But your data is not really at risk in these situations.

Things become shakier when you start dealing with websites for companies located at your destination, or with those that really don’t take security seriously.

The first thing you should always look for is the “HTTPS” prefix on the URL. The alternative is “HTTP” and this is much less secure. In this day and age, this is such a basic requirement for a website that not having it is very suspicious.

Beyond that, use your best judgment. If a site has lots of popup ads or other spammy-looking features, stay away and book with someone else. Also, make sure they use some sort of secure payment system, such as PayPal or Verified by Visa. The worst thing that can happen to you while on vacation is to find out you’ve been hacked through the same website you used to book the trip.

Fortunately, with some common sense, and a willingness to at times pay a little extra money, you can avoid most of these sites and keep your data nice and safe while on vacation. 

Back-Up and Update Everything Before You Leave

The next steps in keeping your data safe and secure while on vacation also must be taken before you leave. The first is to backup all your data. You can do this by downloading it onto a hard drive or by uploading it onto the cloud.

Doing this regularly is good practice anyway. But it’s especially important before you travel. If you should lose your phone, get hacked, or have something stolen, you can rest easy knowing that your data is stored somewhere else. This will also make you more willing to delete everything to keep yourself safe, which is sometimes necessary.

Once you’ve got all your data backed up, you should go through and update all of your devices to make sure they’re running the latest software.

This can be a bit of a pain, but it’s super important. Device and software manufacturers are constantly working to address weaknesses that could be exposed by hackers.

Keeping your device up-to-date will ensure you have all the latest security measures installed on your device, which could be what keeps you safe from a hack.

It’s important to do this before you leave, not when you’re already on the trip so that you can use your home WiFi network.

Downloading a software update on a WiFi network you don’t trust is super risky and not recommended. If that’s your only choice, then it’s best to just leave the phone without the most recent update.  

Avoid Public WiFi

One of the best rules you can follow if you want to keep your data secure while on vacation is to avoid, as much as possible, public WiFi networks.

In today’s day and age, they are everywhere. Most restaurants, bars, hotels, and even stores have WiFi to offer you, which is super convenient. But, as we mentioned, a lot of these don’t use even the most basic security features, such as encryption.

However, even if data is encrypted, public WiFi networks are still risky because, well, they’re public. Literally, anyone can connect to them. And once they’re connected, they will be able to communicate with the other devices communicating with that network. It wouldn’t take much for a skilled hacker to exploit this connection and steal your information.

In general, just avoid public WiFi while on vacation. Even in your hotel, stay away if you can. Stick with your mobile internet connection; it might be a bit slower but it is much more secure.

If you must use a public WiFi network, then follow these steps to keep yourself safe:


Set Up Fraud Alerts and Notify Your Banks

Most banks and credit card companies are just as interested in preventing fraud as you are. It costs them time, money, and reputation. Therefore, there are several tools you can use to help keep yourself safe.

The first is to set up whatever fraud alert system they are offering. These are designed to send you a message whenever something suspicious happens on your account. This way you can intervene right away and avoid any additional attacks.

The other thing you will want to do is notify your banks you are going to be traveling. This way, if something happens on your account that might not normally get flagged as suspicious (such as a large gas station charge near your home) it will get attention, and you can take necessary action.

Most financial institutions will enroll you in this type of system automatically, but before you leave for your trip, check with them to make sure everything is all set, and also to notify them of your situation so that they can change how they analyze your account and properly assess any attacks that may happen.

Make Sure You’ve Got Passwords on Everything

Although they seem somewhat rudimentary, the reality is that passwords continue to be the most important security feature you as the end-user can have in place to keep your data safe.

Think of it as a front door. You might have things hidden inside the house pretty well, but if a thief can just walk inside, their chances of getting something good are that much higher.

It’s the same with your devices. Leaving your phone or computer without a PIN/password might be more convenient for you, but you’re essentially leaving the front door open. Before you leave, make sure every one of your devices has a good strong PIN or password set.

You may also want to change the settings on these devices so that they go into lock mode more quickly. Most of us have things set up so that we don’t have to constantly unlock our devices, but when on vacation, in a situation where your guard is down, it’s better to deal with the inconvenience to keep your device safe.

This should be a part of your life by now, but in case it’s not, remember that a good strong PIN or password contains the following elements:

  • It’s difficult to guess – Don’t use your birthday, address, or something super simple such as “1234.”
  • It uses numbers and characters – The more variety there is in your password, the harder it is to guess.
  • It’s 100 percent private – Don’t share your password or PIN with anyone, no matter how much you trust them. This is one area where things do need to remain private.
  • It’s different than other passwords you use – It’s convenient to use the same password for lots of different things, but if a hacker gets hold of it, then they now have access to all of your accounts.

These guidelines apply to both the passwords you use for your devices as well as for your accounts. Yes, that means you will have countless passwords to keep track of, but the headache is worth it. If you really can’t handle it, consider using a secure password manager such as Last Pass.

Another option is to enable biometric features on your device. Sign in to your phone or computer using your face or your fingerprint. This is the most secure, though some people take issue with the privacy concerns surrounding these features. In the end, the decision is up to you, but no matter what you do, take your passwords seriously.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication simply means that you need to pass through two steps before logging into your account. For example, when you enter your password for the first time on a new device, it’s common that you need to supply a code or click on a link sent to your email or phone.

This simply confirms that it’s actually you trying to log in, and it also gives you a chance to spot fraud before it happens – if you get a text with a code for an account you didn't try to log into, then you now know someone is after you.

Really, you should install this no matter what you do, but it’s extra useful when you’re on vacation and possibly not paying as close of attention to what’s happening with your accounts.

Install Remote Wiping and “Find My Phone” Software

You of course don’t want to imagine a situation in which your phone or laptop is stolen, but it might happen. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared.

The first thing you can do is enable the “Find My Phone” software on your phone, either Find My iPhone or Find My Android. This way, if you do lose your phone or have it stolen, you can find out where it is and try to recover it.

The other thing you should do is install remote wiping software. Doing this will allow you to delete what’s on your phone should it fall into the wrong hands. This, of course, is not ideal, but it’s a lot better than the alternative. And hopefully, you backed up all your data before you left, so it’s not that much of a loss!

Keep Devices on Your Person and In Front of You

Again, the threat of theft while traveling is typically exaggerated in our minds. But you are still a target, and some common sense things will help keep you safe.

The basic rule of thumb is to try and keep your devices on your person as much as possible. Store your phone in your front pocket, laptops in bags that are on you, and tablets secured somewhere within reach.

Avoid putting stuff in back pockets or on the outer pockets of bags so that people can’t get to them and steal them. When in crowded areas, such as plazas or metros, consider swinging the bag in front of you so that you can keep eyes on your stuff.

Avoid Oversharing that You’re on Vacation

Lastly, and this is just common sense, don’t go crazy telling everyone that you’re on vacation, especially on social media. While it’s unlikely this information will make it to someone who can really do you harm, it does happen. Keep posts to a minimum, share stuff only with close friends and family, and wait until you’re back to make it really public that you were gone.

Keep Your Data Safe and Enjoy Your Vacation

While we all want our vacations to be relaxed and worry-free, the reality is that the risks of our modern world don’t stop simply because you've decided to take a week off. And, in some cases, you’re actually more exposed when you’re on vacation, especially when it comes to data security.

However, now that you understand the risks and what you need to do to stay safe, there’s absolutely no reason to worry. Just implement the safeguards we’ve discussed and then head out and enjoy your vacation. You deserve it!