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By Doros Hadjizenonos, regional sales director at Fortinet 

While theft of physical possessions, such as passports, bags and wallets may be our biggest concerns, the threat of cyber theft is quickly becoming more likely – and with potentially bigger losses than just a missing suitcase.   

En route can be riskier than at home

For most people in today’s technology-reliant world, the thought of being offline for extended periods of time is almost impossible to imagine. Which is why it is critical that those traveling with multiple digital devices not only prepare against the potential theft of the devices themselves, but also guard against cybersecurity and data theft.

The incidence of data theft and malware rises daily, and individuals face a growing risk of having their identity stolen to allow criminals to access their accounts. Last year, the South African Fraud Prevention Service said some types of identity fraud had risen by as much as 99% over the year before.  This risk is heightened when people are travelling, as they are often navigating unfamiliar territory while distracted, leaving their devices in the open and connected to the internet and Wi-Fi.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to reduce your vulnerability and exposure to potential cyber threats.

Travel light: Try to limit the number of connected devices you will be carrying and take only what’s absolutely necessary. Be sure to remove as much personal data from those devices as possible, and take the time to back up data and devices to a secure cloud. In this way, you’ll reduce your risk of identity theft and have access to all important documents even if your cellphone, tablet or laptop is stolen or lost.

Encrypt data stored on your device: When possible, use encryption software to keep sensitive data private, even if devices have to be surrendered for inspection at a border. You should also install a VPN application and know how to use it for those times when business or transactions need to be handled in a public setting.

Ensure the physical security of your devices: When your devices are not in use, be sure to keep your devices turned off and locked with a password to prevent them from being accessible to those who could use them for profitable gain alongside cyber criminals.  

Don’t reuse passwords: While many choose to save time and energy by using the same password across multiple accounts, this can enhance the damage that is done by a single password theft event. In order to reduce the risk of password-based cyber risk, individuals need to get creative. This includes swapping letters for numbers or using the first letter of each word in a favourite catchphrase. For an extra layer of security, two-factor authentication is another viable option for protecting sensitive information.

Be aware of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth risks: Cyber criminals looking to steal data often spoof public Wi-Fi networks in various settings, including airports, coffee shops, and hotels. While these networks appear to be safe, and still connect you to the Internet, they are also stealing your data and user credentials. Turn off automatic connections for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on your phone, confirm that a business’ Wi-Fi SSID matches what you are seeing on your phone, and set up your phone as a hotspot as opposed to using public Wi-Fi networks.

Avoid USB charger ports: While USB charging stands in public settings can be tempting, plugging a USB cable into these charging ports can enable cyber criminals to download your personal data while your device is charging. This threat, also known as “juice jacking”, can be avoided by simply plugging in your own adapter to a normal electrical outlet or a portable charger. For those times when the charging stand is the only option, make sure your devices are turned off before they get plugged in.

Recognise phishing attempts: Phishing attacks are a common threat that many fall victim to on a regular basis. If you are sent a suspicious link from somebody you know and trust, confirm it was in fact them who sent it – if not, their email could be compromised. Look out for key signs of a phishing scam, including bad grammar, misspellings, or uncharacteristic language. Finally, hover over URLs before clicking on links to determine whether or not they are genuine.

Avoid sharing information: When you’re travelling, there is no need to let the criminals back home know you are away from home.

While cybersecurity may not be top of mind for most people as they prepare to travel, it can mean the difference between having a successful trip and having your personal information stolen. By understanding the cyber risks associated with travelling, you can effectively prepare and make the most of your time away, no matter where you are in the world.