How to Keep Mobile Devices Secure while Traveling

Mobile device

Everyone uses a mobile device and some of us have even a few of them. Smartphones and tablets are a part of our everyday life and we tend to take them with us everywhere, even to our holidays. One of the biggest uses for these devices is to browse websites, read news and share content on the internet. But is it safe to use these devices outside your home network?

Understand the risks

Our mobile devices are computers as well and there are threats for mobile devices we need to be aware of. When you are using your smartphone or tablet to shop online, online banking or sharing any personal information, you should take the same precautions as when using your personal computer.

You should also keep your mobile devices physically safe, as it is a threat as well. Physical security is obvious but often overlooked, especially with mobile devices. If someone is able to steal your phone, you don’t only lose the physical device, but you could lose your email, social media accounts and a lot of personal information, such as home address, contact and pictures. The thief could potentially steal your whole online presence.

Dangers of public WiFi networks

I have mentioned the use of public WiFi many times before and will do so many times in the future. Public WiFi networks are just a huge risk for the user. If you really need to use one, never log in to your accounts, do online banking or shop while connected to one.

Public WiFi networks, such as the ones in coffee shops, airports, hotels, etc. are a very good opportunity for attackers to intercept information like login credentials, session tokens and basically everything you do online. The attacker could even set up their own free WiFi network for victims to connect to, how do you know the WiFi with the coffee shop name is actually provided by the coffee shop?

It is recommended to turn off the WiFi setting on your device as otherwise it will keep looking for WiFi networks. The problem in this is that if it recognizes a network name, it will automatically connect to it, without actually knowing if it is legitimate or not. When you leave your home, school or workplace, turn off the WiFi to be safe from accidentally connecting to a malicious network.

Is your Bluetooth on or off?

While travelling it is nice to use wireless headphones or hands-free while driving longer distances. But remember to turn Bluetooth off after you stop using it. An attacker could use the active Bluetooth on your device to steal personal information. There have been severe vulnerabilities on the Bluetooth protocol in the past, so it is best to turn it off if you are not using it.

Use your own charger

It is a good practice to always keep your own charger with you and only use it for your device. Do not charge your devices with someone else’s charger or from a computer you do not control. There could be a program running that can steal your data or install malicious software to your phone.

Just look for a plug in the wall for your charger and use that. Public charging stations, shared computers at libraries, hotels or airports should not be used for anything sensitive but also do not charge your phone from them.

Downplay your mobile devices

Yes, we all have these devices, but it might not be a good idea to advertise and show off the newest model you just bought in public. It is also a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and careful with “shoulder surfers”.

Keep your devices locked

Set up a password, pin code, fingerprint, face recognition or any other method to keep your device safe from unauthorized use. If your smartphone or tablet gets stolen the thief is not able to get in and steal your accounts and data before you can log yourself out from the services, change passwords or even locate the device.

Keep a backup

Always keep a backup so you can restore your data, if you lose your device, it gets stolen or breaks during your holiday or even at home. Store your data to a cloud service or take a backup and store it some other location. Doing this will help you to identify what kind of data you actually have on this device and what kind of data you need to protect from getting lost or destroyed.

Be careful with phishing scams

Phishing scams are used to steal social security numbers, credit card data, login credentials and any other personal or sensitive information. This information is then sold forward or used by the scammers to gain profit.

Phishing can be done in person, in a phone call, via text messages or via email. Email is the most common way for phishing scams but it is good to understand that it could happen outside your email’s inbox as well. Suspicious links or attachments received in text messages or emails should not be opened.

A good thumb rule is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.

What to do – compromised accounts

If you notice that your online account is compromised or you are unable to log in to it, act quickly. Reset your password with your email and take your account back. Be sure to use strong passwords and do not reuse your passwords! You can read more about passwords from my blog post.

If it was your bank account, or your credit card details were used, call the bank or credit card company immediately. The quicker you act and are able to report the fraud, the less impact the attacker can have and it also lessens your personal liability. Change passwords and make them strong and unique.

What to do – device is lost or stolen

If your device is lost or stolen, report the incident to the authorities. The authority can be the police, hotel, restaurant or conference staff. If the device contained sensitive company information, report it to the company immediately so they are able to act accordingly. Consider using a device locator to find your lost or stolen device.

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PC Rookies is a project to share information related to mostly security related topics.

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