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How to be a cyber smart traveller for your next holiday

The following article is written by Dr Nick Patterson, teaching scholar in Deakin University’s School of Information Technology.

When going on holiday – especially if it’s overseas – most of us are aware of common safety tips to follow, such as organising all the relevant visas and documents, ensuring you have enough currency, and making sure you watch out for pick pockets or scams.

But there’s one more important category, which often gets overlooked by travellers – your cyber safety. In the modern era, it’s very common when travelling to pack your laptop, smartphone and tablet along with your clothes and shoes. But the disappointing part of this is that you are at more risk of cyber-attacks when you’re away.

Here are five key tips to help you stay cyber safe while travelling to ensure your blissful break doesn’t turn into the holiday from hell.

Update all your devices

Before you leave for your holiday you should ensure all your devices are up to date. This means applying things like iOS patches for your iPhone or Microsoft Windows updates for your laptop – everyone will have a unique setup depending on which operating system their devices use. This is important because as you are travelling around, you will be susceptible to potential hackers in different locations and countries and, as a result, a myriad of malware you might never have been exposed to before. Certain types of malware focus on exploiting various vulnerabilities you have left in your device as a result of not updating it (which is how the WannaCry ransomware propagated). If you want to learn more about terms like ‘malware’ and ‘exploit’, check out this guide to decoding cybersecurity buzzwords.

Back up everything

This is another task you should do before you leave. Make sure you back up everything you have (or hold important) on your devices to a USB or cloud storage (popular options are Google Drive or Dropbox). If you have scans of your passport, tickets, travel documents and visas it is also useful to store them in this back up location so that you’ll still have access to them if your device is stolen or compromised. Back-ups could not only get you out of sticky situations at airports but save your treasured memories if you encounter issues with your devices.

Use device trackers

Enable tracking software on your devices to mitigate the potential damage if you lose or have a device stolen while on holiday. Cyber criminals are continually on the lookout for weary tourists and waiting for the right moment to snatch your device. Most devices in the modern era, such as iPhones or iMacs, allow customers to not only track their devices via GPS but also lock their devices remotely through the internet if they do fall into the wrong hands. Check out the instructions and tools for both Apple devices and Samsung devices.

'Make sure you back up everything you have (or hold important) on your devices to a USB or cloud storage.'

Dr Nick Patterson,
Deakin University

Avoid public Wi-Fi

Most of us have been in a situation where we have time to kill while on holiday – whether it’s waiting for flights in airports or waiting to check in to your hotel – and what better way than to browse the internet or check social media. We don’t want to pay exorbitant roaming charges, so most of us will use the Wi-Fi located wherever we are at the time. But there are two key potential problems with this:

1. Public networks are highly insecure! Many people are using them at the same time, so hackers love to lurk here and try to hack your device or spy on your activity. Because you are both part of the same network, you become in a sense ‘trusted entities’, which makes it easier for data leakage to occur.

2. The other problem is that hackers can set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots. They will name them something legitimate like ‘Free-Airport-Wi-Fi’, which will encourage unsuspecting travellers to connect to it and thus leave them open to spying and hacking.

If you have no other choice but to use public Wi-Fi consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which will encrypt all your traffic, making it next to impossible for hackers to read.

Try to avoid internet cafes

You might be one of the few people who don’t travel with any devices on your holiday (which is smart but not always possible). But what happens when you need the internet? You use an internet cafe in the local shopping complex. The problem with the computers in many of these places is that they are inherently insecure and rarely updated or maintained. This leaves them ripe for malware to be installed by other users. The most common type of malware you will find on these computers will be key-loggers, which are installed by hackers and designed to hide in the background and record what everyone types into the computer. The hacker will then venture back to the internet cafe to collect the treasure trove of personal information, like usernames and passwords. The safest thing is to stay away from computers in public places, but if you don’t have access to a personal device and need to use an internet cafe, the following safety measures can help reduce your risk.

– Check out a few different internet cafes and find the most professional one. It might cost you a bit extra, but it will be worth it.
– Choose an internet cafe that requires identification be produced to use a computer. This is likely to deter potential hackers.
– Ensure your screen can’t be seen clearly by others. Either move the screen or position it away from prying eyes. You don’t want people seeing your passwords.
– Check the keyboard and mouse for any hidden devices which are piggybacking onto them. These are usually used for key-logging your keystrokes.
– You can actually take your own anti-virus with you on USB. ‘ClamWin‘ is a good one to consider. Do a quick scan beforehand – it won’t prevent all viruses but it will give you a good idea if the computer is compromised.
–  Ensure any files you save are saved onto a USB and the recycle bin is emptied before you log out. You can take a tool like ‘BleachBit‘ with you on a USB that will help to clear out any files or records that you don’t want hanging around after you leave.
– To clear out any personal records or passwords from the web browser, use an add-on like ‘Browser Cleaner’ for Google Chrome. If it lets you, add it onto the browser to help erase any sensitive data that may have been recorded.

How cyber safe are you? Take our cyber safety quiz

Find out more about how to keep your online information safe.

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Dr Nick Patterson
Dr Nick Patterson

School of Information Technology, Deakin University
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