Traveling to a high-risk area can expose your electronic devices to hacking or data theft risks. Here are five recommended steps to secure your devices and protect your sensitive information.
- Back up your data before you travel – Make sure you have a copy of your important files and documents in a secure cloud service or an external hard drive. Don’t bring the backup to the risky area, which will help preserve a copy of critical data if your data so you can restore your data if your device is lost, stolen, or compromised.
- Encrypt your devices and use strong passwords – Encryption is a process that scrambles your data and makes it unreadable without a key or a password. You can encrypt your entire device or specific folders and files. Use a strong password that is hard to guess and different for each device and account. You can also use a password manager to store and generate passwords securely.
- Disable or remove unnecessary features and apps – Some features and apps on your devices can make you more vulnerable to hacking or data theft. For example, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and NFC can be used to track your location or access your data without your permission. Disable or remove these features and apps when you are not using them or when you are in a public place.
- Use a VPN and avoid public Wi-Fi networks – A VPN (virtual private network) is a service that creates a secure connection between your device and the internet. It encrypts your data and hides your IP address, making it harder for hackers or third parties to intercept or monitor your online activity. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks, such as those in hotels, airports, or cafes, as they are often unsecured and can expose your data to hackers or malicious software.
- Be vigilant and cautious – The most important step to secure your devices is to be aware of the potential risks and take precautions to avoid them. Do not leave your devices unattended or lend them to strangers. Do not open suspicious emails or attachments or click on unknown links. Do not download or install software from untrusted sources. Do not enter sensitive information on websites that are not secure (look for the padlock icon and https in the address bar). If you notice any signs of hacking or data theft, such as unusual activity, pop-ups, or messages, disconnect from the internet and scan your device for malware.
There are a few things you can do to make your internet experience a little safer. This isn’t everything you can or should do, but these two things will enhance your everyday security without it taking a lot of effort to complete.
Disable your wireless router’s remote administration feature
This can be a very effective measure to prevent a hacker from taking over your wireless network. Many wireless routers have a setting that allows you to administer the router via a wireless connection or over the internet. This means that you can access all of the routers security settings and other features without having to be on a computer that is plugged into the router using an Ethernet cable. While this seems very convenient for being able to administer the router remotely, it provides another point of entry for the hacker to get to your security settings and change them to something a little more hacker friendly. While many people never change the factory default admin passwords to their wireless router, which makes things even easier for the hacker, you should also change the default admin password.
Beware of “Free” Wi-Fi
If you use public hotspots you are an easy target for man-in-the-middle and session hijacking attacks. Hackers can use simple tools to perform “man-in-the-middle” attacks where they can insert themselves into the wireless connection between you and the host of the free connection. Once they have successfully inserted themselves into the connection, they can harvest your transmissions, picking up the network packets that contain account passwords, e-mail, back account information, etc. It is recommended that you use a commercial VPN service provider to protect all of your traffic when you are using free Wi-Fi networks. Costs for these commercial services start at a few dollars a month, but you can always try a free service to see how you like it. A secure VPN provides an additional layer of security that is extremely difficult to defeat unless the hacker is extremely determined.
A determined hacked can probably defeat your basic efforts to secure a wireless signal, but 99% of the time you just have to be a difficult target. When you are attacked by a bear, you don’t have to be the fastest runner, just fast than the friends around you. A similar thing can be said for Wi-Fi security. You don’t have to be the most secure user on the network, you just have to be more secure than those people around you at the time.