6 Ways You Put Your Data at Risk When You Travel

This article is adapted from Condé Nast Traveler

Over the past five years, there’ve been data breaches at hotel chains including Marriott, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotel Group and Mandarin Oriental. In the last year alone, air carriers such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Delta Airlines, British Airways and Air Canada have all been hacked, too.

But individuals also bear some responsibility for their own data security. Cybersecurity experts say there’s no such thing as being too careful. Some basic measures can be the most effective in keeping your devices secure. 

Here are six ways you’re putting your data at risk, and what to do instead.


1. You’re traveling with your everyday credit cards.

Consider getting a separate credit card that you use exclusively for travel. It makes it easier to keep an eye on the transactions, since you’re presumably only going to use it a few times a year. 

Let your bank and credit card companies know that you’re going out of town so they can monitor your accounts during this time. Many banks will send you a text alert every time your card is processed, so you can keep track in real time and know immediately if something is amiss.

2. You’re not using your device’s built-in safeguards.

According to a Pew Research Center report on cybersecurity, many smartphone owners don’t use a screen lock. Nearly seven in ten respondents weren’t worried about how secure their online passwords are.  39 percent of the respondents said that they use the same passwords for many of their online accounts. 

It’s important for travelers to change passwords immediately before and immediately after a trip. By using a different password when you’re overseas, you reduce the risk of compromised accounts. In your password, include numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, characters and symbols (if permissible). Make sure it is memorable but not too easy to guess.

3. You haven’t made sure your devices are encrypted.

Most newer smartphones and tablets are encrypted, which means data is an unreadable jumble unless you unlock the device with a password or biometric key. 

Laptops often come with a built-in encryption tool that the user can very easily set up. For example, Macbooks come with FileVault, which users can turn on to encrypt the disk on their computer. If you have a laptop that runs on Windows 10, it may include a built-in encryption tool called BitLocker, or you can use a free encryption utility called VeraCrypt.


4. You’re too lax about connecting to public Wi-Fi.

Many people connect to potentially unsecure public Wi-Fi networks. They also perform sensitive activities like shopping or online banking on these networks.

If you see a free Wi-Fi network, just keep in mind who might be on it. If you’re at an airport using free Wi-Fi, there are going to be a lot of people on that network. 

Airport Wi-Fi is not known for its reliability. “When a message pops up asking, ‘Do you want to make your computer discoverable to other computers on the network?,’ you should absolutely click ‘No.’”

Another mistake is leaving your smartphone’s default Wi-Fi setting on “Ask to Join Networks” when you travel. Automatic connections are particularly risky because hackers often set up a “rogue” Wi-Fi network that masquerades as a trusted network. 

Cybersecurity researchers have repeatedly proven how easy it is to set up rogue networks at an airport or at a Starbucks. They’ll set up a fake Wi-Fi network with a name that is similar to an existing Wi-Fi network, and they’ll get tens of thousands of people’s phones connecting automatically.

As an alternative to using free public Wi-Fi, you can create a personal hotspot with your smartphone. Just go to the settings menu and look for “personal hotspot” or “mobile hotspot.” “You’re creating a personal Wi-Fi network and, unless someone’s able to get your password, you’re the only one on the network. It’s a lot more secure than joining free airport Wi-Fi. 


5. You’re using Bluetooth to connect your phone to your rental car

When you connect your phone to a rental car’s entertainment system via Bluetooth, your phone’s information remains stored even after you return your car. The simplest prevention is to make the connection with an auxiliary cord instead of via Bluetooth. If not, you’ll need to go into the car’s settings before you return it and delete your information. 


6. You’re needlessly exposing your credit card information

using a credit card—especially one with fraud protection—is safer than using a debit card. But contrary to popular belief, the safest payment method of all is a digital wallet such as Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay.

Apple Pay is end-to-end encrypted, so it’s much more secure than paying with your credit card. That’s because your card information is never collected by the merchant. Instead, the digital system “tokenizes” your account information so that it is represented by a random transaction code. Even if the transaction is compromised somehow, your actual credit card information remains safe because it is never exposed.




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