You may not think of it this way, but the phone in your pocket is really an extension of you — it contains everything from personal photos and videos to critical contact information.
It’s also valuable data that cyber criminals can exploit. This means you need to make sure your phone is protected. While your device can be compromised anywhere, you may expose yourself to additional risks while on a trip.
“When you’re traveling, you may do some things differently than you’d do at home,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director for the National Cyber Security Alliance or NCSA, a nonprofit public-private partnership that promotes safe and secure use of the internet.
For instance, Kaiser said you might be tempted to use an unprotected Wi-Fi network to save on roaming charges if you’re traveling abroad. And you may not consider the risks of sharing your location via apps or pictures you post on social media.
“You might not want to share with the world that you’re in Hawaii for the next two weeks and no one is at your house,” he said.
In this edition of Ask Maggie, I offer some tips for keeping your smartphone secure both at home and while you’re on the road.
I know you offer lots of advice about traveling abroad with your cell phone. Can you offer any security tips for travelers?
Insecure about cell phone security
You are in luck, NCSA has put together tons of tips that can help you be more secure online. Here’s a summary of the tips most relevant to mobile devices to help ensure you don’t become a victim of cybercrime while on vacation. Happy travels!
1. Clean up your device: Make sure the software is updated on your phone. New versions of operating systems and apps usually include security patches. So if you’re running old software or apps, you may be vulnerable to known bugs. While you’re at it, delete old apps you aren’t using. Apps often track your location and collect data about you. Why risk that information falling into the wrong hands for an app you don’t use? Also, unused apps are the ones most likely to be out-of-date, so just delete them.
2. Turn on password or biometric protection: About a third of smartphone users don’t use a password to protect their phones. That’s a big mistake, Kaiser said. “Password protecting your phone is security 101,” he said. Passwords are the first line of defense to protect your data if your device is lost or stolen. Better yet, enable both a password and biometric identification like a fingerprint swipe.
3. Turn off location tracking on apps and manage privacy settings: Apps collect location information to improve the experience of the app or to sell you things. While this may be helpful in certain situations, you don’t need location services enabled all the time. Also, check your privacy settings on social media. If this information is shared, you’re essentially broadcasting to your “friends” and possibly the entire internet where you are, information cyber criminals could find useful.
4. Backup your data: Before you leave for your trip and during your travels, make sure you backup your contacts and other data, like photos, so that if your phone is lost or stolen, your data can be easily restored.
5. Beware of public Wi-Fi hotspots: When traveling abroad, using Wi-Fi instead of a cellular connection can save you money on data roaming fees. But Wi-Fi is less secure than cellular, especially if the network is not password protected. Hackers could intercept communications stealing passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information from you. Kaiser recommends using a VPN (virtual private network) or roaming onto a cellular data network for a more secure connection. If that’s not feasible, just make sure you aren’t sharing credit card or other personal information while in one of these public hotspots.
6. Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using it. When these services are turned on the radios are constantly searching for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks to connect to. The constant pinging of radios can be used to locate you. Keeping them off will also help conserve battery life.
7. Turn on “find-my-phone” and remote wiping: If your phone is lost or stolen, you can use the find-your-phone feature to locate it. You’ll also want to wipe your device of any data so that someone who has your phone can’t access all your information. But these services don’t work if they aren’t turned on before you lose your device, so make sure they’re enabled.
Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers’ wireless and broadband questions. If you have a question, I’d love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put “Ask Maggie” in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.