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Five online privacy and security tips for travellers

Out of the office on holiday this summer? Despite being encouraged to switch off, and enjoy a well-earned break, the reality is that many people find it difficult to “go dark” and so fall into the trap of checking emails by the pool.

So whether you’re travelling to a conference or a hitting the beach, you need to take appropriate steps to keep your data secure, particularly when browsing the internet or making online payments from your mobile device.

With Wi-Fi continuously available today in planes, trains, cars and hotels, the potential is there for us to remain constantly connected. However with that, comes the temptation to cut the usual corners where online security is concerned.

With that in mind, here are five simple cyber security tips:

  1. Not using your device? Lock it!

However careful you are, we’re all at risk of leaving a phone in a cab or perhaps dropping it in a bar, so you need to make sure no one can access important data, should it get into the wrong hands.

  • Set your devices to auto-lock after two minutes to ensure your content remains private.
  • Pick the longest and most complex password you can manage. Don’t use a four-digit pin on your phone because that seems to be the norm. Changing to eight digits means it takes a hacker 10,000 times longer to guess it.
  • Making the effort to encrypt your phone will render it useless to a criminal. This is automatic on iOS 8 devices.
  1. Public Wi-Fi is…….public

If something seems too good to be true, chances are, it probably is. Security bugs are common in public Wi-Fi routers, even in the hospitality industry.

  • You can’t always be sure the hotspot is what it says it is. Hackers can set up seemingly kosher network names so they can snoop on your personal information. Consider using your mobile phone network, or buying a SIM when you arrive to use Pay As You Go data as you need it. Better still, use the company VPN if you can.
  1. Turn off geo-tagging and geolocation features

Before you post a picture of your ice cold beer by the pool to social media, consider this: Does every Tom, Dick and Harry need to know you’re away from home?

  • Go through your applications and make sure as much geo-tagging is turned off as possible.
  • For the ‘tinfoil hat’ wearers, even if you have GPS turned off, your phone can still work out where you are by keeping track of all the Wi-Fi access points it can see around you. Airplane mode is the only way to guarantee you cannot be tracked.
  1. Public computers and ATMs: The risks

Sometimes it pays to be more conservative than usual, especially when you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory. Public computers, like those at internet cafes or business centres at hotels, could be infected with malware, which might spy on you (opens in new tab) when you go online. Crooks can also attach a card reader to an ATM (opens in new tab) or a sales register (opens in new tab) to skim the account numbers off your credit card.

If in doubt, travel with cash. For online payments, services such as PayPal allow you to make a transaction without typing in card details.

  1. Add layers of protection to your mobile devices

Fortify your accounts wherever possible. It’s always worth strengthening your cyber defences when in an unfamiliar environment.

For added protection, use antivirus on your Android smartphones as well as your laptop (both Windows and Mac). This adds another layer to the login process.

As a general rule, you should also update your operating system when it prompts you, and keep an eye on apps permissions. For example, there is no need for an alarm clock to be able to read your list of contacts! This will all stand you in good stead for complete protection of your mobile devices.

John Shaw is VP of Product Management at Sophos (opens in new tab).

John Shaw joined Sophos in 2003. As vice president of product management for end user security, John is responsible for all Sophos’s mobile, encryption, server and endpoint protection products.