Now that the country seems to be slowly reopening after months in quarantine, many people are eagerly looking forward to getting out of the house and maybe even going on vacation. With the summer weather arriving and beaches opening for Memorial Day weekend, many people will be tempted to pack up the family and take a weekend trip. While most of us are aware of the basic safety guidelines that need to be maintained in public – face masks, maintaining a 6 foot radius, and staying home if you feel sick – there is another aspect of your life that you need to keep safe: your computer. Just because restrictions are relaxing in some areas doesn’t mean cybercrime is taking a vacation as well. And while you might want to bring your laptop or other devices with you on vacation, there are some key safety tips that you can follow to maintain a secure network and a worry-free vacation.
Enable a password or PIN lock on every device you have before leaving.
This one might seem obvious because most of us have some kind of security on our cell phones, tablets, or other smart devices. But many people don’t use that same level of security on their computers, which can lead to pretty negative consequences, especially if you happen to accidentally leave your computer in a public space or unattended in a hotel room. The best way to ensure that you are keeping your computer secure is the enable a password every time you start or reboot your computer, as well as a password every time you wake your computer. You should also decrease the amount of time that your computer sleeps before requiring a password. If you have it set currently to require a password after being asleep for 15 or 30 minutes, consider lowering that to 5 minutes. It might be a little inconvenient but that’s better than leaving all of your data out there for thieves and hackers to access.
Turn off your Bluetooth connectivity on all devices.
It’s easy to forget that you have Bluetooth turned on, especially when you’re working from home and you have a headset or headphones on all day. But sitting at home is not the same as sitting in a hotel lobby or bar. Hackers can easily access your sensitive data through your Bluetooth connection without you even knowing. Depending on the strength of your Bluetooth signal, it could even be someone in the next room that is able to access it. Bluetooth offers a lot of convenience and the thought of turning it off can seem unnecessary, but it’s better to take these measures before something catastrophic happens.
Do not connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Everywhere we look, there are advertisements for free Wi-Fi and high-speed internet access in coffee houses, restaurants, and bars. But before you connect to one of these free networks, keep in mind that, without being password-protected, you are opening up your computer or smart device to everyone else who is on that network. You don’t know who else is sharing this connection with you, and you need to make sure that you take precautions and only log on to password-protected networks, like the kind offered at most hotels.
Use a VPN at all time, even on a secured network, and make sure you’re only accessing secure sites.
Using a VPN when on vacation or on an unfamiliar network is key to maintaining the security of your data. A VPN will make sure that whatever network you are on, your personal data is secure and encrypted, and not accessible to cyber criminals. This is especially helpful if you find yourself accessing sites that are not secured. If a URL starts with https, then you know that the page you’re on is most likely secure and legitimate. But many hackers will set up sites that can look very similar to the site you’re looking for, but the URL will start with http. These sites can look very similar to the site you’re trying to access, such as your bank or email, and they can trick you into revealing login credentials and other personal information. They can even quietly install malware on to your computer without you knowing. The best practice here is to ensure that you always have an extra level of security when you’re on vacation.
Keep an eye on your financial accounts regularly.
There’s nothing worse than going on a fabulous vacation, only to come home and realize that someone has hacked your bank account or credit cards and stolen money from you. It can take years to recover from identity theft, so the best way to ensure that your finances are secure is to check them regularly. You should ONLY be logging into your bank and credit card accounts through a password-protected network while logged into your VPN, but once you’re in your accounts, just take a quick look to make sure nothing looks suspicious. Most people assume that hackers will take a huge amount of money at once, but it is just as common to have smaller and less noticeable amounts taken regularly. And if you do see any suspicious activity, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to report the activity and protect your account.
Lock up your devices – LITERALLY.
You’ve enabled all of your passcodes and PINs, you’ve secured your internet connection, and you’ve followed all the guidelines for keeping everything on your devices safe and secure. But what about the devices themselves? If you’re going to be out of your hotel room for a prolonged period of time, utilize the safe in your room and store those devices until you get back. It offers you the added protection of knowing that your devices are secure and allows you to disconnect and really enjoy being on vacation.
Resist the urge to post your vacation highlights on social media until you return.
Whenever you’re on vacation, you’ll inevitably take pictures and videos of all the fun you’re having, and then you’ll want to share that with your friends and family on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms. However, in doing so, you are creating a timeline and a schedule that someone can see who doesn’t care as much about your pictures as they do about the fact that you are out of town and your home is empty and vulnerable. While you may have a security system installed, or someone housesitting for you, that isn’t going to stop a criminal from breaking in and stealing your valuables. If you really want to share your pictures, you can always securely email them to family and friends or post them all when you return home safely so everyone can enjoy them then.
Finally, enjoy your vacation!
To say that 2020 had a rough start is an understatement. Although cities and states are reopening differently, if you are able to take a vacation, even if it’s just a day trip to the local beach or an overnight trip to a favorite vacation spot, don’t let the stress of cybersecurity keep you from enjoying yourself. With summer on the way, there’s plenty of opportunity for fun in the sun, and it’s safe to say we all deserve to enjoy ourselves.
Here’s hoping you’re staying healthy, happy, and safe this summer!