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Cyber Safety for Summer Vacation

Let’s get back to summer travel.

My original title for this byline was “Hack for the Holidays,” but I decided that my ever-friendly content editor would likely reject the thought – however, the statement does highlight an area we should all consider.

Let’s get back to summer travel.

My original title for this byline was “Hack for the Holidays,” but I decided that my ever-friendly content editor would likely reject the thought – however, the statement does highlight an area we should all consider.

We’ve not been able to travel on holiday so easily for a while, and the thought of getting away from work provides the exciting prospect of a break in routine with new things to share online, ensuring our friends and relatives develop a severe case of FOMO.

Between the excitement and the comfort of working from home, it can be easy to overlook the risks associated with this time of year, but it’s important to remain careful and vigilant. 

For example, always keep in mind that when you connect to the internet, threats are already there, looking for ways to attack and manipulate your data, steal passwords or even mess with your finances. Remember that individuals do not control these threats, even though they originated them. Most are automated and roam, looking for vulnerable hosts and reporting on successful missions.

Using the internet on holiday, or anywhere else away from work and home, does not have to be scary. If we remember the security basics, it’s simple to benefit from better protection against attacks, and be more alert to changes should something go wrong.

Remember the Basics Before you Leave Home

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1. Keep your device up to date. Operating system and software updates contain more than new features and can often fix vulnerabilities. Running the latest software can help to reduce the risk of malware getting a foothold in your system and your data.

2. Backup, backup, backup. Before you leave home, make sure that any device is fully backed-up. If your device has the option for cloud backup – standard on many phones today – ensure that this is enabled and running.

3. Use strong passwords and a password manager. Most people know that having “PASSWORD1234” or “12345678” doesn’t cut it, but the importance of unique, strong passwords is something I cannot stress enough. A password manager can help for several reasons, including:

• The ability to generate and store strong passwords

• You only need to remember a single strong password

• Add biometric authentication to the password manager

• The password manager auto-enters passwords. If a keyboard logger infects the device, it will not be able to steal user information.

4. Check that security software is enabled. The best firewall and advanced threat software in the world will only work if it’s appropriately enabled. Sometimes we might feel that the security checks slow down our internet experience, but it’s important to have all features enabled and running full scans regularly. This not only protects against incoming threats but could give an early alert to new possibilities.

Major “Watch Outs”

Your devices will have protection if security basics are in place to keep incoming attacks at bay, but there are still risks, and you need to be careful when, where and how to access information. Our defenses can come down during vacation time and trying to buy tickets for a waterpark visit might make us forget to check what would normally be obvious.

Phishing is probably the oldest way to get caught, but for any criminal, it’s one of the most effective hacking strategies. Be very careful to validate links when you’re accessing new websites, and consider a few best practices:

• Use a Google search to find the site you need and access from there – remember that sometimes the first few entries might redirect to a sales broker that will charge additional and unnecessary commission for services. Take time to read ANY site’s information before making a purchase.

• If the URL for the website seems unusual, don’t click it.

• Try to stay off email when on vacation. If it’s not urgent, it can wait. This can reduce the risk of a ‘quick reply’ leading to a phish.

Accidental malicious downloads are another risk to watch for. You may want to download a local tour guide or let the kids play on an iPad when it’s too sunny outside, but never allow software downloads that come directly from a website or email. Always search for the software on the relevant APP store and get it from there – although this is still not a 100% guarantee for safety, it’s more likely to have been vetted properly.

Keep your Cards Safe

We rely on credit cards during travel; even checking into a hotel is hard without one. Criminals know this and look for ways to skim digital information from people’s wallets and then use it to make purchases—there are a few things to watch for and be careful of:

• Don’t carry cards in your back pocket. Electronic card skimmers are common, and with contactless payment limits increasing, it’s simple for a criminal to just walk in a crowd and steal small amounts from anyone by just brushing near them with a reader.

• Watch for small transactions on your statement. If your card has been skimmed, it does not mean your bank account will only be emptied. Many criminals will steal hundreds of card details and use them to steal small – and hopefully not noticed – amounts, perhaps just $20 or so. 

• Be careful about the double-scan scam. You are asked to hand over your card to complete a transaction, common in restaurants and, although the payment is made, a second scan is taken at the same time to harvest your data. This is very hard to spot until it’s too late, but regularly checking your statement can help as many banks show unassigned transactions as they occur. 

• If you are unsure about a transaction, it is always better to report it than ignore it.

Most of what we’ve discussed here is common sense and, I’m sure, not new to most people – but as I said at the beginning of my article: We have not been able to travel easily, and this is a muscle that needs exercise.

Be careful, travel safely and have a fantastic end of summer!

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