DENVER – Summer vacation season is in full swing and as you pack your bags for a trip out of town, it’s important to remember that the digital devices you carry – like your phone, tablet or laptop computer – may contain personal information that criminals want to get their hands on.
The good news is there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent that from happening.
David Dufour, Senior Director of Cybersecurity and Engineering at Webroot, says there are three big mistakes that people tend to make when traveling: Not locking their phones or backing up their data and using unsecured, public Wi-Fi.
Lock your phone
One of the simplest ways to make sure someone can’t access personal information on your phone, even if it’s stolen, is to make sure it’s locked.
“Make sure you have a passcode in your phone so it can lock and can’t be unlocked,” Dufour said.
Both iOS and Android devices allow you to set up a passcode so that only you can use your phone. Additionally, many newer phones have fingerprint readers so that even if someone figures out your passcode, they still can’t access the device.
Be careful when using public Wi-Fi
Free, public wireless networks are common in places like airports, hotels and restaurants and some travelers may not realize that using those networks can make them easy targets.
“Public Wi-Fi is pretty susceptible to hacking,” Dufour said.
It’s fairly easy for even inexperienced cybercriminals to create a Wi-Fi hotspot that looks just like the one at a local coffee shop, Dufour said. When unsuspecting people connect to that network, the hacker can then watch their activity and potentially get their personal information.
“You don’t know how secure a Wi-Fi hotspot is if you didn’t secure it,” Dufour said.
If you have to use public Wi-Fi for some reason, limit your activity to harmless tasks -- like checking Google Maps or looking up a business – that won’t reveal any of your personal information.
If your device and data plan allow, consider setting up a personal hotspot. This uses your phone’s cellular signal to set up a private Wi-Fi network you can connect your other devices to and safely access the internet.
Additionally, some hackers might also try to use Bluetooth to snoop around. Dufour said some hackers have found ways to use software that “sniffs” out Bluetooth signals, allowing a hacker to find your device and search for potential exploits. If you’re not using Bluetooth on your device, turn it off. In addition to making your device more secure, it will save your battery.
Back up your data
Theft can be a problem when traveling, but backing up your data will ensure it’s not lost if your device is. Check your device’s settings and if it has an automatic backup feature, turn it on. That way, your data will be saved somewhere else for easy recovery if something happens.
Many devices also offer a remote-wipe feature, which allows you to delete everything on the device if it’s stolen.
Anti-virus software is another helpful tool when traveling. It may not seem like an obvious solution since the main purpose of the software is to protect against viruses, but Dufour said any good anti-virus software will provide fundamental protection against hacking and other attacks on your devices.