Remember to unplug when you take annual leave this summer, but don’t lose your senses when it comes to Cyber Security

If like me you’ve recently returned from, or are planning a holiday to warmer climes this summer, I’d be willing to wager that you were accompanied by some sort of smart device or laptop. As well as being a necessity and tool to get tasks done at work, these devices are an equally important tool in enabling us to successfully relax and get nothing done at all. But as I sat in an Italian coffee shop sipping my latte and beginning to unplug from life in the UK, my brain turned to one final thought of something very much work related; cyber security.

Can I connect to the WiFi?

A question most people have asked at some point when in a coffee shop, airport or hotel. However, the question they should be asking themselves is ‘should I connect to the WiFi?’

Although now with many mobile networks, roaming charges won’t break the bank, many people still ignore the risks of sharing a network. These are that someone with even limited knowhow connected to a public WiFi can access other devices on the same network and see information other users are sending and receiving. Ultimately, that someone who is connected to that network can steal personal and sensitive data.

Tourists should be very careful with the information they access abroad, and keep any online transactions to the bare minimum or better still non-existent.

Use a VPN

When you go online, you start by connecting to an internet service provider (ISP) who then redirect you to any websites that you want to visit. All of your internet traffic passes through the ISP’s servers, which means they can see and log everything you do online.

A VPN (virtual private network) is a service that encrypts internet traffic and protects your online identity. It redirects your connection to the internet through a remote server run by a VPN provider, which hides your IP address and encrypts all the data you send or receive. The encrypted data looks like gibberish to anyone who intercepts it. Although still not impenetrable, a VPN goes a long way to providing better protection online whilst on the go.

Even better, to help you switch off and relax on holiday, you can also use a VPN to bypass geo-blocks, which could be helpful if you want to keep up with your favourite shows but you discover they’re unavailable in the region you’re travelling to. 

Minimise Location Sharing

It’s obviously really common for travellers to update social networking sites as they move about new countries or cities. The problem with excessive sharing is that it creates a security threat at home. By signalling your every location, it makes it really easy for a criminal to determine that you’re not in your hotel room or at your home, leaving personal belongings in these areas vulnerable to a physical intrusion. Tourists should limit information they post online about their specific whereabouts to limit these threats to their homes.

Keep software up to date

It’s no secret that out-of-date software makes your devices vulnerable to hackers and malware. In fact, out-of-date software is one of the most commonly abused attack vectors in modern cybercrime, meaning that even if you’re not leaving the house, you should still make a point to update your software the moment such updates are made available.

When you travel, you’re more likely to take risks, like connecting to public Wi-Fi as I’ve already mentioned or visiting websites you might not be familiar with, which can leave you at-risk to phishing scams. Keeping software up-to-date will help mitigate those hazards and could save a device from the latest strain of ransomware.

Do not just download any old application

Increasingly, hotels are personalising the guest experience through a mobile application that users download onto their device to access services as part of the resort. If the security of these applications has not been pentested (penetration tested), there may be a potential risk to the user’s information.

We are far from the scenario where all users demand the guarantee of a pentested application before hitting download, but for the time being we can at least distrust and not install those that are not necessary – and of course it should go without saying that apps should only be downloaded from trusted app stores.

You can find out more about our cyber security services here.

By Matthew O’Donnell