Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home. It’s where many of us feel like our personal information is safe. So if you’re one of the many Americans who travel during the holiday season, add data security to your packing list and lock down your sensitive information. You’ll sleep easier on the road, even when you’re in a strange bed.
Take Precautions with Your Hotel’s Internet Connection
You check in and drop your bags at the foot of the bed. You can’t wait to check email or Facebook after your journey. Start with a quick and easy internet security check.
Did the front desk give you a password for their Wi-Fi? If not, that means it will be an unsecure connection. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it, just make sure you don’t navigate to sensitive bank or credit card websites under these circumstances.
Obtain the hotel’s official website name before you scan for Wi-Fi networks available in your room. You might be tempted to connect to a hotspot that is using a variation of the hotel’s site name, but beware. If it’s a hacker and you take the bait, they can monitor your usage from a nearby room.
If your smartphone can create a personal hotspot, that’s a safer option. Just make sure you have enough data in your cell plan and only surf encrypted sites that begin with https. Stay away from any sites that still use the unencrypted http.
Protect Your Data at a Vacation Rental
Vacation rentals are booming. Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, Evolve, and other short-term rental operations showcase attractive locations, but don’t forget to consider how well your temporary home will protect your data. It’s important for property hosts to be cautious as well. Below are tips for you whether you are providing a room or renting one.
Landlords: If you’re the property owner, make sure you don’t leave any personal data lying around. While businesses like Airbnb stress the need for trust in the host/guest relationship, some guests will be curious and read your data if they can find it. Lock filing cabinets and if you provide a computer, make sure it is protected with a robust password. You may want to create a guest user with no administrator privileges, that way, guests won’t be able to look at your personal files.
The security of your router is paramount, and like other electronic devices, routers can contain security flaws. Check out US-CERT, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, for a list of router issues and ways to secure yours. For routers built before 2016, routerpwn.com also contains valuable information.
Many devices display their default code right on the unit. That can be a hacker’s dream. Always change the default password on the router. You may also wish to secure the router inside a locked cabinet or closet to prevent tampering that could impact your network and future guests.
Guests: As a lodger, you need to consider router and other data security issues too, especially if you’re staying at a high-end rental or one near a military base that could already be in a hacker’s crosshairs. Guests staying at these locations are prime targets because they often possess a lot of financial data or other information hackers can sell or use to steal your identity.
If you’ll need secure online access during your stay, ask questions about internet access before you book to make sure it is adequate for your needs. When you arrive, be sure to request the host’s network name so you won’t accidentally connect to a criminal site scanning for sensitive data.
Boost Your Data Security with a VPN
Another boost for data security on the road is the use of a virtual private network or VPN. Think of it as an invisibility cloak. VPNs can help provide protection against data loss by masking your identity and hiding your browsing history.
Some anti-virus firms offer a personal VPN option to subscribers, and many travelers can access their employer’s VPN. Either approach will put another layer of protection between you and the typical hacker. The less data you potentially expose, the more carefree your trip will be.
Use 2FA to Protect Your Sensitive Accounts
Whether you are traveling or at home, you can add another layer of safety by using two-step or two-factor logins to grant access to your most sensitive accounts. Two-factor authentication (2FA) combines something you know, like your password, with something you have, like your smartphone. It takes a few seconds more to receive a second code after entering your password, but 2FA and similar systems can be an effective way to help protect against hackers. Learn about individual business practices at twofactorauth.org.
Review these tips with everyone in your family before your travel, and don’t forget about your kids. Everyone can benefit from safe Wi-Fi habits.