Easter is coming up, and many people will take advantage of the holiday by visiting friends or family, or even taking a quick vacation. Mobile phones are an important travel accessory for people these days, as it lets them stay in touch with people, use some great map apps to find their way around, and use online banking and other services they need.
The flip side to these wonderful aspects of mobile technology is that there are threats that become more pronounced when people are on the road. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are popular in hotels and airports because they help people avoid roaming charges. Wi-Fi in general wasn’t designed to be particularly secure, and so it exposes all kinds of sensitive information to the public. It’s so easy to monitor what people do over Wi-Fi that it took less than 20 minutes for this hacker to learn the personal details of people connected to a cafe’s hotspot. Do you ever visit café’s when you travel? I know I do. And I also know that having to worry about keeping my personal data safe when I travel is one hassle I can do without.
So I sat down with F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan to talk about this. Sean travels extensively for both work and play. He gets it – worrying about mobile security is the last thing people want to do when they’re away. He gave me three quick pieces of advice to pass along to let people know what they can do to keep their mobile phones safe and secure when they’re away from home.
1. Use a PIN number or passcode to lock your phone. Losing your phone is like losing your wallet – it’s not the cash that stresses people out. It’s the information. Credit cards, driver’s license, insurance information, ID – lots of people keep this info in both their phones and wallets. If your phone gets lost or stolen that information can get out there, so if you want to keep this data secure a code is the absolute minimum. Even if your phone goes missing, a passcode or PIN can help the data stay hidden.
Plus, many mobile services will have anti-theft protection and let you remotely locate your phone, but these anti-theft features won’t do you any good if whoever finds your phone can simply open your settings and disable them. Most phones let you set up passcodes to lock your phone at regular intervals (for example, every hour or every two hours). When I’m working I usually set my phone to lock every four hours, but for traveling I set it to lock every five minutes. I suggest you set yours to lock as often as you can stand. Even if it’s not a long time, like at hour intervals, it’s better than no protection at all.
2. Take the time to remove old files and log out of apps that you don’t need. Cleaning your phone out is important if you want to bring it traveling, especially if you use your phone for work. Phones and computers always store information about what you do. Internet browsers store a history. Apps create temporary files where they store stuff to help them run faster. A lot of apps and websites have passwords and contact information about you stored. Deleting this data only takes you a few minutes with this new free app, and can save you the hassles that come from having your personal data compromised.
I’m always careful to close and even delete apps I won’t be using when I travel, and even reset automatic logins I use for work. I recommend you do the same, because if your phone goes missing and someone starts sending e-mails from your account, you might not have a job to come back to. Getting rid of work stuff is key, not only to protect you and your employer from any mishaps, but also to avoid thinking about work when you’re trying to relax.
3. There’s no excuse not to use a VPN, so get one and test it BEFORE your trip. VPNs are always a good idea. Almost every security researcher I know swears by them. They’re especially important while you’re traveling because you’re more exposed when you’re away from home. You often have to choose between using free Wi-Fi hotspots or paying roaming charges to use your mobile connection. Using a VPN like Freedome gives you a secure funnel that lets you use public Wi-Fi connections without assuming the risks.
It’s especially important for budget travelers that use services like AirBnB. The sharing economy is great for travelers on a shoestring budget, but you give up some of your control over your own situation when you use these services. If you’re using someone else’s Wi-Fi you might not be able to verify that it’s safe – after all, it’s not a 5-star hotel. Using Freedome can prevent you from “sharing” information in this new economy that you’d rather keep private.
These are quick, easy things you can do to keep your private information private while you’re traveling, so take this advice to heart so you can enjoy your holidays.
P.S. Sullivan also suggests calling your bank ahead of time and let them know you’re traveling, so they know that charges appearing away from where you live don’t mean that your credit card was stolen.
[Image by Francesco | Flickr ]
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