In today’s world of the Internet of Things and connected devices, it is now more critical than ever to be aware of how cybercriminals target personal information and take steps to combat them whether at work, at home, or on vacation.
This March and April, many families will be heading out of town for spring break. If it’s any indication for this year, the American Automobile Association (AAA) reported that 35 percent of Americans had planned to take a vacation of 50 miles or more away from home in 2017. That’s nearly 114 million people!
When traveling, we often trade security for convenience. This can cause us to let down our guard and leave us vulnerable to malicious hackers who want to steal personal information.
Despite the need for increased cybersecurity when away from home, a University of Phoenix survey found that less than half (48 percent) of respondents worry about cybersecurity risks on vacation. While the possibility of being hacked is not extremely high, the likelihood of data breaches increases if cybersecurity best practices are ignored while at more vulnerable locations that require the use of public Wi-Fi. On the road, travelers often only can access Wi-Fi at places like coffee shops, hotels, and airports.
Anytime we connect to Wi-Fi networks outside of our home, we can put our personal data at risk. Public places have open Wi-Fi networks that can allow cybercriminals to track online activity and steal our data. While it is unreasonable to leave our devices at home or not use them in public, people need to be aware of the risks they face and how to stay safe.
Think of it this way: many of us would guard a backpack, suitcase, or purse from pickpockets, but if a criminal gains access into our phones or laptops, it is akin to stealing our wallet right from under our nose. Much like how we protect our physical belongings when traveling, we should take the same approach with our cybersecurity. We may clutch our bags close to our bodies to prevent theft, but we often leave our devices, like smartphones, vulnerable from excessive use on unsecured networks.
The survey found that half of travelers check their devices at least once an hour, meaning many probably access public Wi-Fi. Despite using their devices often, very few survey respondents said they take measures to prevent malicious hackers from potentially accessing personal information. More than half of people (54 percent) lock devices with passwords when not in use, but few take other security measures like updating antivirus, hiding or locking away devices when gone, and changing or updating passwords prior to traveling.
Taking steps like using strong and unique passwords and opting for our phone’s hotspot instead of public Wi-Fi networks can help us avoid unnecessary cybersecurity risks and allow us to enjoy our vacation. According to the survey, stolen bank information was the top concern for travelers, selected by more than half of respondents. Other major concerns include losing devices and contracting viruses on devices. Less than a third were concerned about hacked email or social media accounts, which can be a gateway to personal data.
There are myriad ways your personal information can be compromised while you’re away from home, but taking proper cybersecurity measures and treating our cyber safety the same as our physical safety can help keep us secure.
While there is no surefire way to prevent criminals from accessing our data, the first step is to be aware that the information you share online can be accessible to criminals and used against you. Whether you are in another country or down the street, it is essential for people to take precautionary measures when traveling during spring break.
 This poll was conducted from May 25-30, 2017, among a national sample of 1991 registered voters. The interviews were conducted online, and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of registered voters based on age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
About the Author: Dennis Bonilla is the Executive Dean at the College of Information Systems and Technology and School of Business, University of Phoenix. You can connect with him on Twitter here: @DennisBonillaIT.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this and other guest author articles are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.