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Staying Digitally Safe When On The Move

by Brian Sims

When travelling during the holiday season, we may change the way in which we behave, observes Peter Barker. Hopefully, we’re more relaxed than usual, which of course is a good thing, but it’s important not to let down our guards when it comes to protecting sensitive and personal digital data.

Recent research conducted by LinkedIn found that 24% of respondents said they cannot relax while on holiday if they haven’t checked their Inboxes. More than a third said that they feel more positive about the return to work if they’ve been keeping up-to-date with e-mails.

Whether for business or pleasure, many of us travel with at least one digital device – a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop – that’s a potential source of sensitive or confidential data about us, our family, our friends or our work.  That content needs to be protected when we’re on the move. While many people will already have security software in place, it’s also important to look at the issues around connectivity and physical protection.

Connect wisely

First, it’s best to avoid public Wi-Fi networks. That message ‘Your information may be viewed by other people’ is there for a reason. It’s better to use a trusted VPN, a Wi-Fi network that you’re confident is secure or even resort to cellular access (especially when travelling in Europe, because changes to data roaming and more competitive mobile provider packages mean that many of us can use our UK ‘minutes’ when on the continent).

Similarly, public charging stations – those USB hubs frequently found in airports and other public locations – are a potential risk. Mobile power packs are useful for providing two or more complete recharges of a smart phone.

Consider turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when not in use. Perhaps think about moving files that don’t have to be on a laptop, tablet or phone elsewhere, whether that be to cloud storage or a password-protected hard drive.

Safe software

If that isn’t viable, invest in better password protection. These days, there are many password management tools available. Also, many office software packages include built-in password management. For instance, it takes just seconds to put passwords on a Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheet.

Software that’s not up-to-date may be vulnerable, so always carry out any updates before travelling. Removing any apps that are out-of-date or no longer being used will reduce potential entry points for hackers and malware.

When we’re relaxed or jet-lagged, there’s always the risk of letting down our guards, but when travelling, it’s just as important to not respond to suspicious looking e-mails or other content in much the same way that we would do in the office. Surf the Internet safely: https sites are encrypted, http may not be. Turn off location-tracking apps and resist posting holiday information on social media rather than advertising your absence to potential burglars.

Physical protection

Physical protection of sensitive or confidential information is as important as digital protection. It’s a good idea to keep all digital devices in your hand luggage. Think about ways in which to secure hand luggage against pickpockets: just make sure that it’s easy to unlock for customs and airport security purposes.

Even just being able to view someone’s screen can be a security risk. Known as ‘visual hacking’, the ability to view sensitive data on a screen is very simple, can be fast and doesn’t require any technical expertise. Information viewed or snapped with a smart phone camera could potentially be used for malicious or illegal purposes. For instance, it could be sold to a third party or used to hack a person’s financial accounts.

While the precise scale of this risk is hard to know, research carried out by The Ponemon Institute and commissioned by 3M in 2016 demonstrated the alarming potential speed and ease of a visual hack. 157 trials were carried out by a ‘White Hat’ hacker impersonating a temporary office worker across eight countries (including the UK), with the permission of the companies involved.

Visual hacks were achieved in an average of 91% of cases worldwide. 52% of the sensitive information the hacker obtained was from digital screens.

Installing privacy filters 

Peter Barker

Peter Barker

Making sure that devices have screensavers and required logging-in after a period of inactivity are two very simple, but also very effective measures. Also, think about installing a privacy filter to prevent prying eyes from viewing a laptop, tablet or smart phone screen. These take just seconds to apply, are comparatively low-cost and, as well as making it difficult for a screen to be viewed unless at close range and straight-on, they also provide some protection against accidental scratches and scuffs.

Having to think about our data being breached while travelling for business or when on holiday isn’t the most pleasant of subjects, but taking a few simple steps beforehand could make the difference between having a memorable trip for good rather than bad reasons.

Peter Barker is Market Development Manager (EMEA) for the Display Materials and Systems Division at 3M

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