Fran Maier is the president and executive chair of TRUSTe, the leading online privacy solutions provider. She speaks widely on issues of online privacy and trust and is active in mentoring women in technology. She serves on a number of Internet and trust-related boards, including the Online Trust Alliance.
At the peak of summer, the weather is not all that’s heating up – privacy, it turns out, has never been hotter. From senators to major news outlets, it seems everyone has privacy on the mind these days.
What does this have to do with your upcoming vacation? Well, chances are you’re packing more than a swimsuit and a beach book – what about your smartphone, laptop, tablet and digital camera? These devices are loaded with personal information and pose significant privacy risks if not properly protected during travel. Exercise a little common sense and follow these privacy tips to help protect your personal information and ensure a safe and relaxing vacation.
1. Use Secure Wi-Fi and “https” Whenever Possible
If you’re connecting to a wireless network, be it at a café or your hotel lobby, it should be password-protected to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing the network. You can also ask the venue if they have encryption enabled for their wireless router, which provides an extra layer of defense. If you plan to log in to your online accounts or enter sensitive credit card information over Wi-Fi, make sure the website URLs begin with “https,” indicating that they encrypt your data during transmission.
2. Consider Tracking or “Find Me” Apps for Your Digital Devices
Computers, tablets and smartphones are popular theft targets due to their high resale value, but you can equip them with 21st century anti-theft protection. Choose from a variety of apps that allow you to track and potentially recover your devices in the event of theft. Some apps take photos of the perpetrator, geo-locate the stolen devices or even allow you to remotely log in to the devices.
3. Don’t Broadcast Your Absence on Social Media
Announcing your travel plans on a social media account can clue potential thieves to an opportunity to raid your vacant home. This threat is especially magnified if your social media accounts are public.
4. Log Out Of Public Computers
If you check your email at an Apple store or Internet café while on vacation, remember to sign out of your online accounts when you’re done. Simply closing the browser window is not enough – some accounts may keep you logged in. Therefore, the next person who tries to log in to their own email or social networking account will have full access to yours.
5. Consider Leaving Your Laptop At Home
If you’re thinking about packing your work computer, remember it may contain sensitive information. Border agents have sweeping search powers upon country reentry, and have the power to search and copy the contents of your smartphone or computer. Depending on the device’s information, maybe it’s best to leave it at home.
6. Monitor Your Financial Statements In Real Time
A daily check of your credit card and bank account while traveling can’t hurt. Tourists are often prominent targets for fraud; therefore, daily monitoring can help target suspicious activity (like double-charges) right away. However, remember to only check these sensitive financial accounts using a secure Internet connection.
7. Password-Protect Your Devices
Your devices and the data they contain are more vulnerable when you are on the road or visiting an unfamiliar place. If you have sensitive information on your digital devices such as medical records, password-protect or even encrypt sensitive files for further protection. If your devices are stolen, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your data is safe.
8. Lock Sensitive Documents/Devices In Your Hotel Room Safe
If the place at which you’re staying doesn’t offer a safe, then securely carry them on your person.
9. Cameras Are At-Risk Too
Your smartphone and laptop aren’t the only devices with personal data. Last year I lost my Wi-Fi-equipped camera while traveling abroad. After my return to the U.S., I discovered that the camera had automatically uploaded pictures to my online account. Lo and behold, they were not my photos! The new camera owners had unwittingly uploaded their family vacation photos to my online account via the camera’s Wi-Fi-enabled memory card.
10. Check Your Privacy Settings Before Sharing Vacation Photos
When you return from your travels, it may be tempting to immediately upload your vacation photos to your social networking account, but take a minute to review your privacy settings beforehand. That photo of you taking tequila shots at the poolside bar could end up in the network feed of your boss or a future employer.