Whether it’s once and a while or you consider yourself a road warrior, the recent data breaches at Hyatt, Omni, Trump Hotels, Hard Rock, Starwood, and Hilton have brought to light just how vulnerable you are when you travel. Follow the seven tips below and you’ll be safer when you travel.
- If it’s international, leave your work devices (computer, phone, tablet) at home. Say what you want about the NSA spying on Americans, but I much prefer my information in the hands of the U.S. government than foreign entities. Everything is captured these days, and you have to ask yourself who is doing the capturing? In the United States, it’s our government who are at least somewhat regulated and have to answer to the American people. In foreign countries, it may be the government, it may be a private company the government hired, it may be the Internet Service Provider (ISP), it may be the owner of the hotel you are staying at, it may the owner of the WIFI access points being used, it may be all of them. There aren’t quite the same checks and balances as the U.S. depending on the country, so the best advice is leave any work devices at home. If you must take them, use a VPN service (see number 3).
- If you do leave your work devices at home, don't, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, check work accounts such as email on public computers. Doing this is nearly the equivalent of posting your username and password on the black market for sale. This rule applies when you aren't travelling as well.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) service on public wifi. This includes in the hotel, on the airplane, and waiting for the airplane at Starbucks in the airport. If you're skeptical, check out this story about a reporter getting hacked mid-air while using airplane wifi. There are many free and pay for services out there you can try.
- Turn off Bluetooth and wifi on all your electronic devices if you aren’t using them. Did you know that your wifi devices like your phone and computer are constantly calling out looking for networks you regularly connect to? It is very easy to intercept this signal and pretend to be the network your phone is looking for, giving a hacker access to your device and possibly setting up a man in the middle attack.
- Try to avoid swiping your credit card. If you haven't already, register for a hotel loyalty program of your choice and keep a card on file to avoid having to swipe it. For added safety, ensure every card you own has chip technology (or at least every card you use). Don’t use an ATM unless it’s built into a wall at a bank location. Skimmers have become common place, but they are difficult to implement on permanent, built into the wall ATMs at actual bank locations.
- Pick one credit card to be your “travel” credit card and do not use any other card while traveling. Put a reminder on your calendar to call in every year and get a replacement. Tell your credit card company you suspect it was compromised while you were traveling and they will send you a new one free of charge.
- Put your electronics in the safe. I once had a hotel housekeeping employee steal every one of my credit card numbers during turn down service at the Westin in Cape Town, South Africa. Truth is, I was at fault as much as he or she was because I left my wallet out. Any hacker will tell you the easiest way into a device is with physical access. Therefore, not only should you log out of and lock your computer when you leave the hotel room, but you also better put it in the safe. Otherwise, all it takes is that same housekeeping employee that stole my credit card to plug an infected USB drive into your computer for 10 seconds and now she’s tracking every username and password you type (keylogger) and/or has full control over you device and access to every file you own (remote connection).
For more tips on cybersecurity while traveling, check out these additional resources: