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11 cybersecurity tips for business travelers

Don't put your sensitive information at risk when you travel. Learn how to take a few extra precautions with these cybersecurity tips.

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or traveling for the first time, cybersecurity poses a risk. Business travelers are extremely vulnerable because they carry sensitive data, so it's vital that they take extra precautions to keep this information safe.

After being cooped up during the pandemic, business and leisure travelers are itching to globe-trot once again. Referred to as "revenge travel," people are rushing to book their next trips to make up for lost time, and companies are looking to send their employees out for business once again. Industry experts expect travel levels to be higher than pre-pandemic levels.

With more and more people traveling, criminals are looking to capitalize. To protect your personal information and your company's sensitive data, follow these 10 cybersecurity travel tips to ensure your information doesn't travel to an unwanted destination.

1. Lock down devices

Using a strong password or PIN is necessary to keep your information safe. Keeping tablets, smartphones and laptops locked when not in use is even more important. Most of these devices have security settings to lock the device with a fingerprint ID, facial recognition or PIN.

Having your device unlocked for even a minute or two can give hackers plenty of time to breach it.

If you misplace your items, this is the first line of defense. Having your device unlocked for even a minute or two can give hackers plenty of time to breach it.

2. Update passwords

Change passwords that you regularly use, along with PINs on your devices. Also, don't use a common PIN for a safe or security box in the hotel. Be sure to create a strong password using a mix of characters and recommended length of at least 12 characters. Consider creating short phrases to help you remember passwords.

You might also choose to use a password manager that stores passwords in one protected area. You can use free password managers, such as LastPass or KeePass, found in the app stores, or use the ones built into your devices and browsers, such as iCloud Keychain and Google Password Manager. You can also pay a small subscription fee for more features on password managers such as Dashlane or 1Password.

You can change all your passwords once you return home. Having a set of travel passwords versus the same passwords you use at home and the office gives you another level of protection.

Chart listing password hygiene tips
Steps for proper password hygiene.

3. Use caution with public Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi might seem appealing, but it makes you vulnerable to security issues. Using unsecured and unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in areas such as hotel rooms, airports, cafes, lounges and meeting venues puts you at risk for data theft. When you are connected to these networks, anyone can read and track your information.

If you must use public Wi-Fi, you can reduce your risk by using a VPN. A VPN creates a more secure connection with password protection and encryption. This scrambles your information so that people can't read your passwords, data or anything else you send or receive online. If you cannot connect to a VPN, avoid accessing your personal accounts and sensitive business data while using a free hotspot connection.

Diagram showing how a VPN connection works
How a VPN protects data using encryption.

4. Install antivirus software on all devices

One of the easiest and most effective ways to keep your business and personal information safe is to install antivirus software on your mobile devices. This includes your laptop, tablet and smartphone.

Having this software is a last line of defense. This protects you if you accidentally connect to an infected network and helps protect your devices from malware, which can steal your personal or business information and crash your device.

Be sure you install any antivirus updates as soon as possible. These updates include security patches and other fixes to your antivirus software.

5. Update operating systems and apps

Just like antivirus software, you need to keep your operating systems current. You should also update the apps on your smartphone -- especially ones you use regularly for your job or personal business.

Before traveling, check that everything is up to date. These updates can fix known bugs or security issues. You should complete all these updates before you leave and not while you are traveling.

6. Disable Bluetooth

Bluetooth connectivity can present problems because signals come from all directions. When you leave Bluetooth on, people nearby can connect to your phone and possibly hack your device. Keep Bluetooth disabled as much as possible to prevent potential attacks.

7. Back up information on your devices to the cloud

Before traveling, back up your devices' data to the cloud to keep your information safe. While you try to protect your devices, life happens. It's possible that you will either lose your device or damage it.

Trying to restore data while traveling can be complicated. Having all your information in the cloud lets you access this information from anywhere, since it is on a remote server, and provides a backup for items stored on your computer.

8. Stop auto-connecting

Most phones have a setting to automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks. While this can be useful for your daily activities, don't connect to Wi-Fi networks as you travel.

Turn off this feature before you travel to prevent your laptop and smartphone from automatically connecting to a network. Instead, manually connect to networks after determining they are safe.

9. Be cautious of skimmer devices

Criminals can use skimmer devices to copy credit card information without touching or using your card. It takes only seconds for someone to hover the device over your credit card and copy its data. They can even do this by hovering the device near your wallet or pocket.

An easy way to prevent this is to use an RFID protection wallet or card holder that creates a digital wall between your credit cards and the skimmer. Wrapping your cards in foil will also block the signal.

Skimmers can also be hidden on ATMs and other legitimate card readers. The machines still operate properly, so they are harder to detect. Check ATMs for any signs of tampering before inserting your card. Also look for any pieces that don't seem to fit properly.

10. Minimize location sharing

It is common for travelers to update their social networking sites while traveling to new cities or countries. However, this excessive sharing creates a security threat. Telling everyone that you are away makes it easy for criminals to know when you are not in your hotel room or at home. Limit the information you post online to limit threats to your property, including your work devices.

11. Avoid public charging stations

Free charging stations may seem convenient, but you could become a victim of juice jacking. Cybercriminals can load malware or monitoring software onto a device while plugged into public USB charging stations. The malware or monitoring software can then access personal passwords or data from the device.

To avoid becoming a victim, use an AC power outlet with your own charger. You can also use a portable charger. Even if you use your own charging cable, it prevents sharing data. If you ever see the prompt to “share data” or “charge only,” choose the latter.

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