By Andrew Brandt
Ah, summer. Beaches, drinks with little umbrellas, 4th of July fireworks, baseball games, reading long cheesy novels in a lounge chair, teleconferencing with colleagues from your hotel room in Aruba. Wait, what?
Yes, it’s true. It takes serious discipline to travel without schlepping along a laptop, smartphone, digital camera, MP3 player, portable hard drive, SD cards, and a host of support equipment. Well, it does for me, anyway. Along with those devices come pitfalls, from loss to data theft. So, in the spirit of safe summer travel, in advance of the big 4th of July travel weekend, what follows are Webroot’s five tips for summer travelers who can’t go anywhere without bringing along gadgets.
1. Watch where you WiFi
It can be tempting to take advantage of free WiFi access points in airports, hotels, or in cafes, but resist the urge to use those connections to do anything other than browse for a map or train schedule. Unsecured wireless connections — such as the open ones that some businesses provide as a service — can also leave you vulnerable to wireless snooping of your logins, email messages, or instant messages by other travellers or guests. The same can be said for untrusted computers in hotel business centers or cybercafes, which are magnets for data-stealing malware.
If the connection doesn’t ask you to provide a WPA key, assume the connection is not secure, and treat it as such; If you must use a free wireless connection, turn off any programs that automatically connect to the Internet (such as email clients or file-sharing tools) before you hook up. And please don’t use the untrustworthy PC in the hotel lobby to do anything more private than print your boarding pass to get home.
2. Set up automatic bill-pay for your regular bills before you leave
Being able to pay all your bills online may leave you complacent about doing so in a public place, but you really shouldn’t be logging into your bank and cutting electronic checks for your utility bills while you’re on the road. Most banks offer free automatic bill payment services; Take advantage of them if they’re available, so you don’t miss a monthly charge.
If, for some reason, you can’t set up automatic bill payment, try paying off your bills just before you leave, or pay more than the monthly total if you’ll still be travelling during the end of your next billing cycle.
3. Back up *everything* on any device you intend to bring
Laptops aren’t the only data-rich devices we carry around anymore: Increasingly, we’re carrying sensitive data on our MP3 players, portable hard drives and thumbdrives, and smartphones (and the tiny memory cards inside of them), simply because it’s convenient to do so.
Don’t wait until disaster strikes and you realize you’ve left your iPhone in a taxi in another state (or worse, another country): Back up everything, as if you might never see the device again, before you hit the road.
4. Don’t post your vacation plans on your facebook wall/ Twitter feed (at least until you get home)
It may seem fun to brag to friends and acquaintances on social networks about your upcoming trip to a beach-party paradise, but you might want to resist the temptation to call too much attention to the fact that you’re leaving behind an empty, unattended apartment or house for weeks at a time.
Burglars have already begun to turn to Facebook and Twitter to find homes that may be vacant during a holiday absence, so don’t make their job any easier for them by giving them your travel itinerary. Of course, if you feel compelled to post vacation snaps on the road, modify your privacy settings so only your closest friends see those notifications. At least then you’ll have a starting point for the police when they begin investigating the burglary of your home.
5. Keep your devices on your person at all times
It’s a sad fact that hotel rooms are not as secure as we’d like to believe they are, and small, easily pocketed electronic devices go missing from rooms every day.
If you absolutely must bring along a laptop, plan on keeping the laptop with you at all times, or at the very least locking it in a room safe (or in the hotel’s safe, if there isn’t one in your room) if you don’t want to get sand in the DVD drive. And don’t just assume the thieves are looking for a quick buck: Some business travellers I know who regularly go to China have discovered that, in their absence, someone tried to install password-stealing malware on the computer that they had left cable-locked to the desk inside their hotel room.
The most security-conscious travellers I know perform a full imaging of their hard drive before they leave, and then reimage the drive with the backup when they return, but you don’t have to take such drastic measures. After all, if the computer is with you, nobody else is going to be able to touch it without you knowing about it.
Or, you know, you could just take a vacation and leave your gadgets and devices at home.