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5 tech tips for safe travels

Protecting data on personal computing devices, careful use of public Wi-Fi hotspots and social media platforms some measures travelers should adhere to while abroad, say observers.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

As the holiday season approaches and people embark on their trips abroad, it is no longer enough to simply be mindful of having one's wallet safely hidden away or keeping one's luggage close by. With cybercrimes on the rise, it is also vital to safeguard one's personal digital data.

Speaking to security vendors, ZDNet Asia has helped compile five useful tech tips for travelers to be mindful of before and during their journeys.

1. Back up all data
Before jetting off, people who plan to bring their computing devices along for the journey should back up all their information as a precautionary measure, said David Harley, senior research fellow at ESET Security. After all, data such as addresses in one's contact list or a half-written novel cannot be insured and should be better protected, he explained in his e-mail. To do so, he recommends users to use device, disk or file encryption with passwords that are appropriate to the importance and sensitivity of the information.

"Don't forget that a fraudster can make use of personal information that might seem quite trivial to you," Harley said. "Consider using some form of password management software, but make sure that your passwords are backed up somewhere secure."

It is also useful to scan travel documents so that electronic copies are available if the originals are lost and stolen, he added. That said, these electronic documents are valuable, sensitive information and should be kept somewhere safe so that it does not get stolen together with one's wallet, he said.

2. Spring clean and encrypt hard-disk
Jason Pearce, Asia-Pacific sales engineering director at M86 Security, also called on travelers to look through their hard-disk and remove all "sensitive" files and information that are not necessary for the trip. He warned that should the laptop or mobile computing device be lost stolen, there are online tools available that can crack open files on the hard drive.

If these files containing personal information are needed for the trip, owners should then go the extra step of encrypting the device's hard drive, the executive stressed.

" Use a USB flash drive or other portable storage device to copy and carry files that are most critical while traveling," he said. "It is important to make sure information such as bank and credit card details are kept safe. Keep them encrypted or protected with a strong password and keep this device safe while traveling."

Users should also make sure security applications and software updates are current. These software include the operating system, antivirus, firewalls, Web and e-mail content filtering applications, Pearce noted.

3. Wireless hotspots not trustworthy
Free public Wi-Fi hotspots are usually warmly welcomed by travelers as a cheaper alternative to get online compared with data roaming charges. That said, these hotspots aren't always trustworthy, Pearce said. Elaborating, he said hackers can use configure a laptop to disguise as a wireless access point in order to siphon one's data.

To mitigate this risk, he urged users to verify the authenticity of the hotspot with employees working at the establishment providing the hotspot. The M86 executive also called on travelers to ensure firewall settings on their devices are tweaked to restrict the amount of incoming information from the unknown network. "It is common in hotels to have your laptop port scanned and tested for vulnerabilities by hackers or local authorities," he pointed out.

Should you need to access or send corporate data or e-mails over such Wi-Fi hotspots, he advised users to make use of a secure connection via virtual private network (VPN) to do so.

4. Be careful when using public PCs
If packing a laptop for your travel is not on your agenda, then be mindful when using the PCs provided by Internet cafes, hotels or airports, advised Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs at Panda Security.

He said in his e-mail that on such public access PCs, users would not know what has been installed on these devices. If a Trojan, for example, is downloaded on the device, users might inadvertently divulge their bank details if they conduct online transactions, he warned.

As such, avoid making transactions or purchases online on these PCs, or accept any browser prompts to save passwords for sensitive accounts lest these are accessed by users that come later, Corrons noted.

"If you really have no choice and have to enter Web sites requiring your personal credentials, make sure you change these as soon as possible to minimize the risk," he said.

Once done, users should delete all temporary files, the browser history, cookies, log files and any other information that may have been saved by the computer, he added.

5. Avoid oversharing on social platforms
Lastly, Corrons urged those with social networking accounts or participating in online forums and community sites to avoid proactively sharing their holiday plans on these platforms. This includes not using holiday planning apps offered on these Web sites, he added. He also cautioned against switching on the geolocation features on services such as Twitter or Facebook, and the function on their mobile devices.

"If you observe any suspicious behavior on social networks [such as] strangers showing too much interest in your holiday destinations or dates, call the police" the director said. "Prevention is better than cure."

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