Cybersecurity travel tips

Published 3:00 am Friday, June 28, 2019

Now that summer is here, the sweltering heat has enveloped the South, and, of course, we begin heading to even hotter destinations: gulf coast beaches. Often, when we discuss cybersecurity protection tips, we employ those actions at work, or, at home. However, given our ever-growing use of mobile technology, it is just as important to practice safe computing practices whenever you are on the go – especially when travelling.

Our minds make things easier for us through the use of efficient thinking strategies, sometimes called “shortcuts in the brain.” These shortcuts help us make decisions very quickly, without having to stop, research, and spend a lot of time analyzing data. One of the heuristics that I find interesting is social proof.

With social proof, when a person doesn’t know how to act/react, they assume the behavior of those around them. A perfect example of social proof is online product and service review aggregators. Take, for example, Google Reviews. If you use Google to search for a restaurant, you are often presented with a Google Review, an unofficial rating of the business. Users present reviews of a business. Think about your reaction when you see the 5-point rating that Google assigns to the business. If you see that many people have given the restaurant a 4 or 5-start rating, I’d wager that you are likely to give the place a try. A crowd of strangers influenced your behavior because you “saw” that they were pleased.

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Social proof is a powerful tool for purveyors of modern technology, whether it’s a product or a service. If they can exhibit that people are using it, or, suggest that you should as well, statistically, you are very likely to try it.

As you travel this summer, you and your devices will face new and increased cyber risks.

Let’s explore how social proof could convince you to do something that might be unsafe, and, how to keep your digital footprint safe.

At the top of this list is FREE WIFI.

The ever-tantalizing allure of “free” internet draws us in. Restaurants, shopping centers often present pictures of people smiling and pecking away at devices, exploring the digital world through an establishment’s Wi-Fi. Others are using it, it’s in the photos, you see them – the behavior of others will convince you to do so as well.


Public Wi-Fi is a hotbed of uncontrolled activity; connecting your phone, tablet or other devices to these services should come with a disclaimer: Abandon All Hope.

Before you connect to any public wireless network, whether a hotel, airport, restaurant, be sure to verify the name of the network and the exact login steps with an appropriate representative of the facility. In doing so, you will make an effort to verify that the network is legitimate. I’ve stayed in hotels where Wi-Fi network names are as abundant as the dust bunnies under the furniture – don’t connect to a network that “looks” like something associated with the business. Verify before you connect.

If you decide to use public Wi-Fi, avoid engaging with sensitive activities. Don’t participate in online shopping, online banking or connecting to work resources. Despite verifying the correct name of the legitimate Wi-Fi network, there is no likelihood that the network traffic is clean. Think about is like this: pull back the curtain of your hotel room and stare at the cool, refreshing swimming pool. Children jump into the pool, exit, jump in again. Others hang out for hours in the relaxing waters.

Now, go to the pool and take a drink of the water. It’s water right? Yeah, I wouldn’t do that either. Those networks are filled with lots of devices and indescribable activities – don’t push your luck by engaging with sensitive electronic resources. Use your mobile network connection, cellphone, instead.

Lastly, for Wi-Fi, disable auto-connect features on your mobile devices, especially while traveling. Auto-connect to Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth allows your device to seek and partner with available devices and networks. You will want to control what you connect to – connect only to those that you choose.

Keep your devices locked.

A wonderful habit is locking your devices whenever you are not using them. Enable the auto-lock features on your mobile devices and you’ll not have to worry about this one. An unattended, open device could spell disaster for you. Think of the data you carry on those devices: photos, auto-logins to applications and services, notes, messages – if you don’t want others stealing it, lock it down.

Along the same lines, maintain the physical custody of your devices as well. Vacation destinations are notorious for increased theft. To prevent loss and unauthorized access to sensitive information, never leave your mobile devices unattended. This suggestion doesn’t apply only to phones – if you carry USB or other external storage devices, lock those away as well (be certain the data is encrypted). I am amazed at the casual approach that many take to their devices. I’ve seen phones on pool decks, exercise equipment, locker rooms and bathrooms. The owners place them down for just a moment and walk away. Someone else can which those items away just as quickly.

And, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two others. Update your mobile software. The updates appear frequently, and, many are designed to improve security – install them.

Back up your information. If you lose your device, if your device is stolen, if it becomes part of the ocean floor, you will want to restore your contacts, photos and other precious personal data. Review your backup process before hurrying away on a fun vacation.

But, most importantly, just because the overwhelming majority of others poke and stare at those small sheets of glass and metal, doesn’t mean you should feel the need to do so as well. Put it down and enjoy yourself.