It’s vacation time for many of us, and that means it’s Christmas for criminals. In their eagerness to experience all the wonders of leisure destinations, travelers are prone to overlooking risks to their physical and digital security. Crooks know this, which is why they target people carrying cameras, sporting backpacks or exhibiting other signs of tourism.
Travel Security Tips for Safer Trips
Tourists are a favorite target of thieves because they lack local connections and language skills. A few basic precautions can significantly limit your vulnerability, particularly in foreign countries.
1. Start at Home
Before you leave, make sure all critical data on your devices is backed up, either to local storage or to a cloud service protected by strong encryption. Activate remote locate and lock features that are now standard on all major smartphones and tablets so that you can disable devices if lost or stolen. Implement password security on all devices and specify a maximum number of failed attempts — between five and seven is typically sufficient — before lockout. Also, be sure to install or update anti-malware software on every device.
We know you want to tell everyone about your big adventure, but posting details on social media while you’re away is an invitation to burglars. Snap all you want, but wait until your travel is over before sharing all your great photos.
2. Take Basic Physical Security Precautions
A stolen wallet is every traveler’s nightmare. You can minimize the potential damage by only carrying essential items with you, such as a passport or driver’s license, one or two credit cards, and a minimal amount of cash. Keep everything else in a safe or other hiding place in your hotel room, and invest in a money belt or pouch that can be concealed underneath your clothing.
You should also take photos of all of your important documents, including credit cards. Store them on an encrypted flash drive or upload them to a secure cloud. That way, you at least have access to basic forms of identity and critical phone numbers in case your wallet pulls a disappearing act.
In general, carry your most valuable electronic devices with you when you fly. I have twice had electronics stolen out of checked luggage. If you need to check your electronics, invest in a TSA-approved luggage lock and read your carrier’s policy on theft liability.
3. Use Two-Factor Authentication
At least one of the access controls in two-factor authentication should be a password of nine characters or longer. The second may be fingerprint, face, voice or pattern recognition, or verification through an authenticator app. Don’t use biometrics as your primary form of security — most can be defeated with photographs or recordings. The same goes for pattern lock, which can usually be broken in five or fewer attempts.
4. Be Careful When Using Public Wi-Fi
Many restaurants, airports and hotels offer free Wi-Fi services. It’s tempting to use them, but be careful. Many have no security at all, meaning that your keystrokes can be easily intercepted by anyone else on the network. For basic travel security, turn off file- and print-sharing in your network settings, and be sure your firewall is active and up to date.
If you need to send sensitive information, use only sites that employ the HTTPS protocol. Most browsers now tell you if your connection is insecure and give you a chance to abandon ship — pay attention to those warnings. Fortunately, most sites that handle personal information are now adopting HTTPS.
Email is the most important service to secure because criminals can use email addresses to reset passwords on other sites. If your email account is compromised, it essentially gives attackers free rein to access all your other services — yet another reason to use two-factor authentication.
For an extra layer of security on public Wi-Fi, subscribe to a public VPN service. This sets up a secure tunnel between you and the sites you connect to, protecting your data with strong encryption. It’s inexpensive insurance, with most plans starting at less than $10 per month.
5. Use a Password Manager
If you use different passwords for each sensitive website, good for you. But if you store those passwords in a plaintext file, email or spreadsheet on your mobile device, you’ve undone all your good work. Password managers store all your login credentials and even credit card and personal information in a secure vault, usually protected by encryption.
There are more than a dozen password managers to choose from, and most are inexpensive and work across multiple platforms. They’re far from perfect, but they do take the pain out of keeping track of multiple secure passwords, and most can generate passwords for you.
A Little Security Goes a Long Way
Always charge your mobile devices using your own equipment plugged directly into the wall, since public charging stations can be compromised to install malware. Similarly, fraudsters can easily breach Bluetooth devices with remote equipment, so disable this feature when in public places.
Finally, check your devices for photos, videos and written material that may run afoul of local censors. In some countries, you can be jailed for having that in your possession.
Travel security concerns shouldn’t prevent you from having a great vacation, but they sure can prevent you from having a lousy one. Bon voyage!