Today, almost every person on the planet owns a mobile phone, and we don’t go anywhere without them. When you have a GPS, translator, camera, and entertainment system all wrapped up in one device, why would you leave it at home? Mobile devices have become an essential part of traveling experiences, unfortunately leaving us vulnerable to dangerous hacks.

With the information stored on them, mobile phones are an extension of ourselves, housing everything from harmless photos to critical, personal information. Over the last few years, phones have become more and more at risk for cybercriminal exploitation, a process known as “data exfiltration.”

Mobile devices put you at greater risk for such attacks, especially while traveling. Because of the ability of mobile devices to store loads of sensitive personal information, experts are finding that the data travelers bring with them on trips is not only highly desirable, but also highly valuable to dangerous cybercriminals.

The fact that most smartphones experience carrier level updates by default means that eavesdropping malware can be easily loaded on phones of targeted travelers. Because of these risks, TeknaByte has compiled this handy guide to help travelers protect themselves and their mobile devices.

Turn on Find My Phone

Physical theft of mobile devices is not a new phenomenon, so the first step to protect you and your smartphone from hackers is to turn on your device’s Find My Phone feature before traveling.  “Many people assume this is automatically activated with every phone,” explains Brandon Bogle, a cell phone expert for Asurion, a company that provides insurance for consumer electronics, “but it needs to be manually turned on.”

If your device is lost or stolen, the Find My Phone service can locate it or wipe the device of any sensitive data. For iPhones, navigate to settings and tap on your name at the top of the settings list. Select “iCloud” and then look for “Find My iPhone” to confirm that the feature is active. We also suggest turning on “Send Last Location” as this will automatically send the phone’s location to iCloud anytime the battery is critically low. If your device runs Google’s Android mobile operating system, you can enable Find My Device in Settings under Security & Location. The “Find Your Phone” page in your Google Account can verify that the service is working. Be sure to activate the service before traveling!

Protect Data with a VPN

Now that you’ve protected your phone’s physical safety, it’s time to take steps to protect the data stored on it, including passwords, bank details, and credit card numbers. One aspect of traveling that leaves you vulnerable to data exfiltration is the use of free, open WiFi networks, ones that aren’t protected by a password. Using these networks leaves you susceptible to malicious identity theft as it is easy for hackers to intercept your connection and access data stored on your device.

A high-quality VPN will protect your information when you log onto public WiFi by establishing a secure connection between your device and a private server, thereby encrypting your traffic so that hackers accessing the same network can’t get to your information. VPNs offer strong data encryption and malware blockers, support all mobile device operating systems, and even offer a kill switch that will pause your connection if the VPN connection drops. VPN providers we recommend include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Cactus VPN, or My Private Network.

Activate Passwords and Biometric Protection

Studies show that about one-third of smartphone owners don’t use a password to protect their devices, a devastating error that can wreak havoc on your life if your phone falls into the wrong hands. Password protecting your devices is security 101, as it provides the first line of defense against attacks. Most modern phones now have biometric protection such as fingerprint swipes or facial recognition, making it even more difficult for hackers to get in.

When creating passwords, it’s important to keep them unusual so hackers can’t easily guess them. “Be sure to use some combination of letters, numbers and/or special characters of eight characters or more,” suggests Jeremy Miller, director of operations for Kroll Fraud Solutions. “Avoid using dictionary words. Instead, [use] acronyms for things like favorite songs, restaurants or other items known only to you. And change the password frequently–at least once every six months.” If you’re concerned about creating or remembering a difficult password, the software RoboForm can simplify the process.

Teknabyte Consulting

Here at Teknabyte IT Consulting and Managed IT Services, we know how important data protection is to travelers. Advising our patrons on how to protect themselves and their information is important to the work we do. For more information on how you can prepare your devices for traveling, visit our website today.