Holiday cyber security often gets forgotten about among the rush of packing, planning, and travel excitement. Yet, it’s one of the most important, and at the same time the easiest to-do list entries to prepare for. Want to know how? We’ll give you top tips and tricks to protect your devices and data during your holiday to make sipping on a cocktail much sweeter.
We even threw in cyber security tips for the holiday season, particularly for safe gift shopping, to save you from scammers pushing under your Christmas tree.
Cyber Security As the #1 Thing on Your Holiday To-Do List
Eager to go on holiday, you’re less suspicious of possible vulnerabilities you’re exposed to. According to McAfee, 44.5% of holiday-goers use unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Yet, over half of survey respondents worry about identity theft! This could show people don’t know how to protect themselves on holiday.
Your smart home is exposed to cyberattacks while you’re away too. Which? recent research proved attackers perform over 12,000 IoT hacking attempts every week. Though most of them are unsuccessful, printers and security cameras tend to be the weakest link in your network. The culprit here is their default username and password.
If summer scams weren’t enough, you also need to watch over your shoulder during the holidays. Non-payment and non-delivery scams cost their victims over $265 million in 2020, IC3 reports. Credit card fraud lost an extra $129 million.
It doesn’t mean you’re doomed every time the holiday season comes around. All you need is a few new cyber security habits to protect your devices and data from anywhere.
Update Software and Download Latest Security Patches
Before departure, check your devices are up to date. Software updates fix existing vulnerabilities to stop hackers from breaking into your electronic network.
You should also enable automatic updates, especially if you forget to download them manually. This regularly scans and downloads the latest updates as you travel, maximizing your cyber security.
Change Your Wi-Fi’s Name
Your Wi-Fi’s default name, like TalkTalk123 or SKY4935, lets hackers identify which provider you’re using and research its easiest entry points.
Renaming your Wi-Fi to something random, eg. BringPizza4WiFiPassword, creates a stronger barrier between you and hackers. Why? Because it has no information about you or your ISP. The best thing is you can get creative — as long as you don’t use identifiable phrases.
While you’re at it, your Wi-Fi password could also use a refresh — 12 (ideally 16) characters including numbers, uppercase & lowercase letters, as well symbols should do the trick.
Enable Strong Encryption on Every Device
Encryption turns your data into a string of random characters. The combination is impossible to decipher without a digital key, so cybercriminals won’t glimpse at your information!
Most modern devices have built-in encryption available in their settings. However, you can boost your data protection with a VPN. Connecting to a VPN adds a layer of encryption to your internet traffic. It also provides better anonymity, because it’s an independent service — so it doesn’t report to anyone.
You can install PIA on your router to protect your entire network without extra charges. Switch it on before you jet off, and you won’t have to worry about hackers taking control of your devices while you’re gone.
Create a Data Backup for All Devices
What’s worse than losing your devices? Losing documents, photos, videos, and other stored data. Creating a data backup before you leave is an easy way to save important files to the cloud or external memory so they’re safe even if your devices get stolen, damaged, or misplaced.
Change Your Passwords and Enable Two-Factor Authentication
If you don’t change your passwords every three months, do it before leaving on holiday. Cybercriminals continuously run brute force attacks on online accounts, but you can reset their progress when you switch up your passwords.
For better protection, enable multiple-factor authentication. Even if hackers manage to guess your password, the authenticator blocks them as only you can access it.
Don’t (Over)Share Online When You’ll Be Away
As exciting as it is, don’t post about your holiday until it’s over. Cyberpunks and other criminals actively scan social media for any details about when you’re away and mark you as a target.
If you can’t wait, use messaging apps with end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp. This hides all messages and lets you securely make your coworkers green with envy — as long as you have a group chat.
Alternatively, get stronger encryption on your entire device with a VPN. Doing so keeps you invisible online and stops persistent cybercriminals from leaking your data when you’re using the internet. Including public Wi-Fi!
Best Cyber Security Tips for Holiday Endeavors
Reduce The Number of Devices You Use
Going on holiday doesn’t mean you need to live off-grid, but you should limit the devices you’re taking with you to the minimum. Doing so dramatically reduces the risk of losing them or having them stolen.
Turn On “Find My Phone” Settings
Losing your device is one of the most stressful experiences, whether you misplace it or have it stolen. Luckily, mobile devices come with a handy “Find my phone” feature letting you pinpoint where your phone or tablet is.
If your devices don’t have it built-in, Google Play and the App Store offer multiple third-party apps with the same functionality. Our top picks include Prey Anti-Theft and Cerberus, but the choice is limitless.
Disable Location Services When You Don’t Need It
Navigation often makes it easy for hackers to spy on your location. This applies even to saved locations in your photo gallery!
Use your GPS when navigating unknown territory and turn it off when you don’t need it. You should also refrain from “checking in” to restaurants, bars, hotels, beaches, and other places you visit on Facebook and social media.
Use Your Own Devices, Chargers, Cables, and Power Adapters
It’s easy to forget your batteries, chargers, or other items necessary to power your devices. The obvious solution seems to be widely available cords in public spaces or even your hotel — but it’s not smart.
Cables, power adapters, and USB ports may contain malware. They can infect your devices as soon as you plug them in, giving attackers an entry to the entire system.
The same goes for public computers or tablets at hotels or libraries. Even if they’re not malicious, cookies and trackers still record your online activity. If you really need to use a public device, don’t log in to any vulnerable or personal accounts.
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi Unless Absolutely Necessary
Public Wi-Fi is a playground for snoopers and hackers as they use it to spy on unsuspecting travelers. They often steal any data you share and perform man-in-the-middle attacks — usually without you noticing. This may even happen on the internet at your hotel.
In an ideal world, you’d use your mobile data when traveling. But since it’s not always possible, get a VPN to stay safe on public Wi-Fi. A VPN encrypts the internet traffic passing through your device. It’s a guaranteed way to avoid nasty surprises like identity theft without compromising on your speeds or bandwidth.
As a bonus, a VPN also helps you bypass geoblocks, so you can still access services and sites from back home without issues.
Watch Out for Over-the-Shoulder Data Thieves
Despite hackers coming up with more sophisticated attacks every day, traditional shoulder surfers are still thriving. They often hang out in public spaces, including the pool in your hotel, trying to steal any data you may share by looking over your shoulder.
Sometimes it can be difficult to spot them, especially if you’re in a crowded space — but you can use cool gadgets to help. My favorite is a screen protector you stick on, which makes your screen completely dark for anyone who’s not looking directly into it. They’re super affordable too!
Secure Holiday Season Purchases With Cyber Security Tricks
Use Credit Cards or PayPal to Complete Purchases
The holidays give malicious actors a great opportunity to trick you into purchasing highly discounted items without sending them to you.
To avoid disappointment, use credit cards, PayPal, Klarna, or another form of secure payment. These companies let you pay using credit, which you pay off over time. However, if you don’t receive the item or something goes wrong, contact the credit provider and ask them to remove the charge — so you won’t lose your money.
Spot Phishing Messages and Avoid Scams
It’s easier to disguise a phishing message among holiday marketing emails, so you need to learn how to spot a fake email, text, or phone call quickly.
Before you click on any links, check the sender’s details. Watch out for spelling mistakes or random capitalization in the middle of a word. You should also verify it came from a real company by looking up their contact details.
Phone calls are trickier as you can’t confirm how legitimate they are straight away. Even if your phone shows a Caller ID, refrain from sharing your details over the phone. Instead, hang up and call the retailer using the number found on its website.
Shop From Verified and Trusted Online Retailers
When shopping online, pay attention to URLs. Secure websites have “https://” at the front, which means the platform protects you with encryption. “Http://” is not the same thing — the “s” indicates a site’s security.
Scan the URL for spelling changes too. Scammers often create legit-looking domains for skim readers, like Amaz0n.com. Since they also rush making malicious sites, you’ll likely spot multiple grammar mistakes.
If you’re not sure, use Whois Domain and TrustPilot. They’ll tell you who created the website and whether people had a good experience with it.
Create New Shopping Accounts Using Different Credentials
When you’re buying from a new website, create a new account using a separate email and a unique password. Don’t repeat your login details from other sites. This stops a cybercriminal from logging into all of your accounts when they get details for one.
Check Your Bank Accounts Regularly
Even if you don’t think it’s a scam, make it a habit to check your outgoing payments regularly.
It can be extremely difficult to spot anything malicious, yet you may hand your payment details into the wrong hands. Checking for suspicious withdrawals helps stop scammers from stealing money from your bank account before it’s all gone.
Be Aware of Dodgy Charities Asking for Donations
Sharing is caring, but do you know where your donations end up when you throw a coin into a collection bucket? Many charities actually take a big percentage of it for themselves. Do your research before donating, as your goodwill gesture may fill the pockets of those who don’t need it.
Regardless of its legitimacy, don’t enter into any direct debit agreements and avoid making bank transfers. You can take a leaflet with the details, but you still need to find out the who, what, and how of the charity you intend to help.
Boost Festive Protection With a VPN
Connecting to a VPN server prevents would-be hackers from stealing your credentials as you’re getting your family’s dream gifts. It anonymizes your real location by changing your IP address and encrypting your traffic. This means no one can see any of your personal details, no matter which websites you visit.
Moreover, credible VPNs (like PIA) use a No Logs policy. We don’t monitor, collect, or share your data with anyone, keeping your shopping history 100% private. Get Private Internet Access for a safe holiday season and test it risk-free on all devices.
Enjoy Your Holiday Knowing Your Devices Are Safe
These easy cyber security tips and tricks will help you relax and have fun on your well-deserved holiday. Though you don’t have to apply all of them, try to follow as many as possible for maximum protection.
The key is to be vigilant at all times, whether you’re at home filling up stockings or working on a tan in Mexico. Cybercriminals never sleep — and the holiday season is their party time.
What are the most common holiday cyber security risks?
Phishing, social engineering, malware, and identity theft lead the way as the most popular threats around holidays.
Not all cyber security risks are quite so direct. If you don’t secure your smart home, you may return to a malicious global botnet. This means your fridge, speakers, cameras, and other IoT devices could be partaking in DDoS or man-in-the-middle attacks as we speak.
How can you protect your cyber security on holiday?
Refrain from using public Wi-Fi. Free networks let hackers break into unsecured devices and install spyware. Foreign countries may also have a questionable outlook on surveillance, sending your data who-knows-where.
Use PIA before connecting to a public network to hide your internet activity from possible snoopers and keep your data private. The VPN encryption prevents unauthorized malware installations and stops viruses from nestling into your devices behind your back.
Is Private Internet Access useful when traveling?
Yes! PIA protects all your devices, so you don’t have to worry about cyberattacks and scams.
PIA’s global server network comes with military-level security, using 256-bit AES encryption, best VPN protocols, a Kill Switch, and a No Logs policy. These give you the complete protection and anonymity you need to avoid nasty holiday surprises.
What are the most important IoT safety tips when leaving home?
The best (and easiest) IoT safety tip when you’re going on holiday is to install an IoT VPN to protect your network. IoT vulnerabilities lie in its constant connection to the internet, so focus on securing your Wi-Fi before anything else.
Second, update IoT software in your home. This patches up weak spots and boosts your network protection. It also helps to enable two-factor authentication on IoT mobile apps and change your passwords before you leave.