Don’t Leave Data Security at Home When Traveling for the Holidays

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Enjoy more cybersecurity cheer for the season with this checklist

The holidays are a strange mix of stress and rest—packed schedules and end-of-year projects being wrapped up so people can take a vacation and enjoy the presents wrapped under the tree. It’s a time of parties and amazing treats. It’s a time for travel and visiting family.

Unfortunately, even as people are using up their PTO to enjoy Thanksgiving or Christmas with loved ones, there’s one area that organizations must remain vigilant: cybersecurity. The problem is that IT teams can be running on skeleton crews during the holidays and cannot respond to alerts as quickly or thoroughly.

Also, don’t forget that 95% of all data breaches involve human error1—something we can be more prone to occur during high-stress holiday travel. Add a simple cybersecurity checklist along with your packing routine before you depart for some rest and relaxation.

Step 1: Connected? Protected!

If it’s a device that uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or any other connection, whether officially for work or personal use, don’t leave it unguarded. Make sure all your devices, from your mobile phones to your laptops and tablets and even your mobile gaming platforms are all current with the latest OS patches and malware detection and protection.

Oh, and if you’re forgetful about some of the technical details, make sure your device has the “automatic update” feature on to make it one less thing to remember in the holiday rush.

Step 2: Dodge the “phishy” deals

One big bump people see during the holidays is the number of offers—both spam and legitimate—from the most prominent companies. Be extra cautious about holiday promo emails, text messages, and ads because these are easily mimicked by phishing scammers who try to sneak their data-thieving links in through spoofed designs and email accounts that look legit at a glance. And because there are so many of them, it can be trickier than usual to sift the actual Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals from the ones that would like to black out your screens with an actual cybersecurity breach.

Step 3: Travel lightly

Limiting the number of devices you take on any holiday trip automatically reduces the risk of one of them becoming a breach point for cybersecurity thieves. So while you may want to bring a dozen different devices to ensure you stay on top of the latest email, news, shows, and chat circles, figure out which ones are really the most essential and leave the rest safely locked up at home. Remember, it’s supposed to be a vacation!

Step 4: Free isn’t always a good thing

Because it is open you anyone and everyone, public Wi-Fi is usually less secure than even your home network, much less the one you use at work. Please make it a personal policy to avoid transmitting either personal or organizational data on public Wi-Fi networks, such as at the airport or a cozy coffee shop that has your favorite seasonal drink in stock. Need to still do business while visiting loved ones? Engage a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to a public Wi-Fi. Or, better yet, use your phone as a personal hotspot.

Be sure to disable your device’s remote connectivity, as some will automatically seek and connect to available wireless networks without you realizing it. And check the privacy and security settings on web services and apps to set proper limits on what information is shared, to whom, and when.

Step 5: Don’t forget the physical security

Getting a device hacked or losing network credentials to a phishing scam is one problem, but what to do when you get off a plane or reach your holiday short-term rental and find out you lost a phone or laptop along the way? First, your device is password-protected, right? And when you leave it in a hotel room or any other temporary stay, you have a way to lock it up, correct? Good.

Most devices come with a “find my device” feature so you can track down its nearest location and hopefully retrieve it before any damage is done. The same feature also allows for remote authorized access, so you can either disable or completely wipe the device if you fear it has fallen into the wrong hands. Replacing a device is far less costly than wondering what might be done with the data it contains.

As a bonus step, if you’re on social media, think twice before constantly updating Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with photos and videos throughout your holiday travels. Anyone monitoring social feeds will know you’re on-the-go and could try everything from locating and breaking into your own home to stealing valuable devices to trying to impersonate you on a fake professional account while your “OOTO.”

  1. 1.IBM, “Cyber Security Intelligence Index Report,” 2022