Keeping data safe while traveling

Vacationers should scrutinize publicly accessible networks and computer workstations.

With summer in full swing, many people across North America are getting prepped for their annual vacations. However, when traveling in an unfamiliar setting, the potential for costly data theft is high. Most seasoned travelers are well aware of the threat posed by pickpockets in tourist towns, but they may be less concerned about being targeted by cybercriminals. 

Vacationers have a tendency to let their guard down and because they have little to no knowledge of the integrity of local businesses, they may find themselves taking unnecessary risks with their sensitive information. For example, an individual may decide to check his or her work or personal email from a cybercafe or other business providing public computer access. These organizations may have highly suspect cybersecurity measures in place and could retain information on their workstations after a user's session has ended. If a traveler absolutely has to use a publicly accessible workstation, he or she should ensure that the organization has system restore application in place to reset the machine's configurations after it has been used and remove any sensitive data that may have been accessed.

Travelers are at a heightened risk for data breaches because they tend to frequent the most at-risk enterprises while on vacation. According to a recent security study, retailers, hotels, bars and restaurants were the victims in 78 percent of reported data breaches. For instance, a global hotel chain was sued by the Federal Trade Commission because its insufficient cybersecurity protocols resulted in consumers losing millions of dollars to credit card fraud. 

Danger lurks in public networks
One amenity that travelers should be wary of is free public WiFi. Hotel lobbies, cafes, train stations and airport lounges among others may offer patrons access to their WiFi network, but if it is not encrypted, vacationers may be opening up their devices and information to anyone else on that same network. Furthermore, cybercriminals can establish WiFi hotspots through a single laptop or mobile device, creating a trap for unsuspecting targets. 

Awareness is key to preventing an expensive data breach from occurring while vacationing. Travelers should keep an eye on their credit and debit cards, and be on lookout for skimming devices at ATMs or credit card terminals that may have been set up by thieves to steal account information. When using public networks either via WiFi or a physical workstation, vacationers should check with management that the proper security protocols such as system restore and recovery and encryption are implemented. Once travelers have returned home, they should scrutinize their financial statements to catch any suspicious transactions before a compromised account can be further abused.

Matt Williams

A self-proclaimed ‘tech geek’, Matt has worked in technology for a decade and divides his time between blogging and working in IT. A huge New York Giants fan, when not watching football Matt gets his game on playing Call of Duty with his friends and other tech bloggers.