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Warning: Avoid being a target for cybercrime when travelling; here’s how to protect yourself

Shield your screens when you're travelling, because cyber criminals are out and about. (Photo: Getty)

Your long-awaited holiday has come round, and of course you’ve got your smartphone, tablet or laptop with you at all times to navigate your travels and keep in touch with family and friends.

But that makes you a hotspot for cybercriminals.

While you’re travelling, electronic devices – including corporate and personal laptops, phones, tablets, and removable devices such as USB drives and SD cards – are targeted, said NCC group head of risk management and governance consulting Joss Howard.

And one of the biggest risks for travellers is that their online banking details or login for online financial services could be “compromised,” which could see unsuspecting travellers “fleeced by opportunistic criminals”.

Here are seven very simple ways for Aussies to stay safe from prying eyes and ill-intentioned hackers:

1. Protect your screens

One of the most effective methods of keeping sensitive information safe is also the easiest: shield your screens, Howard said.

For larger devices like laptops or tablets, use polarising screen protectors; for smaller devices such as your phone, even shielding it with your hand can limit what others can see.

2. Avoid unfamiliar networks

Just as you shouldn’t use public WiFi for your tax return, which contains sensitive personal and banking information, you should simply assume public WiFi networks are unsecure.

“Dodgy WiFi networks are one of the biggest points of weakness when it comes to device security while travelling,” said Howard.

Where you can, use a personal hotspot that’s password protected, or use a VPN so the information you send and receive over the public network is encrypted and can’t be intercepted by third parties, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) advises in a recent report.

3. Back up your data

Your portable devices are convenient – and also easy to steal.

So if you have important information your device you can’t afford to lose, have a back-up plan, which might be having an external hard-drive, cloud storage, or just copying data directly to another device.

4. Don’t download on the road

If you’re travelling and you see a notification popping up asking you to update software or install a seemingly legitimate program, don’t do it, advised Howard.

“At least, not over networks you don’t know are secure,” he said.

An easy way to side-step this is to just update your devices with the latest firmware, software or apps before you leave home, so you don’t need to do it on the road.

5. Switch your tech off

When you’re not using WiFi, your data, or Bluetooth, for example, make sure it’s switched off.

And if you’re having a sensitive conversation, the ASCS recommends turning the power off your devices and taking them away from close proximity of the conversation.

6. Eyes on the device

This one is also a simple fix: be aware of where your electronic devices are.

Don’t ever put them in check-in luggage or leave them unattended, even in hotel rooms, said Howard.

And at border control in some regions, you might be asked to surrender your device, at which point it might be removed from your sight: according to the ASCS, you should assume that it has been potentially compromised.

7. Common sense

Turn devices off when they’re not in use; use strong passwords; and use an extra layer of passwords or authentication to protect your information.

“And remember, it’s okay to refuse to let people use your device,” said Howard.

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