A Traveler’s Guide to Cybersecurity

Jonas Walker, Security Strategist at FortiGuard Labs, provides indispensable tips and practices to ensure safety and security while travelling.

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Jonas Walker, Security Strategist at FortiGuard Labs

With the summer travel season upon us, many are eagerly planning their trips abroad. As the excitement builds, it’s essential to remember that increased travel brings with it heightened cyber risks. Whether you’re heading to a tropical beach or a bustling city, practising cyber hygiene is crucial to keeping your digital life secure.

Why is practising cyber hygiene essential for travellers?

Cyber hygiene is like personal hygiene, it’s all about having a daily routine. That includes good practices to ensure that your environment stays clean, especially when travelling.

When you travel, you typically carry a device, a computer or smartphone. These devices known as endpoints typically connect to different networks, whether that be a hotel, a corporate network, public Wi-Fi, or at a conference. Endpoints are thus the last stage of a network, making them the most at risk.

If while traveling, your endpoint device was infected with malicious software like viruses, there’s a chance you could infect your corporate network. If threat actors can gain access to your specific device, then they can gain access to your corporate network. With this, threat actors have a foot inside the network, which allows them to move laterally through the network and scan the network from inside. This often leads to ransomware down the line at the later stage of an attack.

What can travellers do to protect themselves against cyber-attacks?

The most important point is to patch your systems. This is something that should be something of high priority whether you’re travelling or not. A good example is when you open the App Store or Google Play Store and update the apps on your smartphone. Next time you do this, check out the release notes, and why the vendor is recommending you update their app. More often than not, it’s not about a feature or a new UI. In most cases, it’s about security features like a bug that has been fixed. If these apps are not updated, threat actors who are aware of these issues as disclosed by the vendor can take advantage of these vulnerabilities.

Another important point is not to install random stuff on your computer for which you don’t know the legitimacy. When travelling, sometimes you need different kinds of tracking software, especially if you are in different countries, and especially now with a lot of countries asking for certain kinds of trackers at airport immigration for example. Make sure you install the right one and not some weaponised files which might be floating around the Internet.

It’s also really important to be aware of with whom you share your devices. Don’t let someone else use your laptop, even quickly to just browse a website or check some emails. This is really dangerous because if someone else connects to their own inbox, this could lead to you opening a certain file and downloading malicious stuff onto your computer. The same holds for connecting USB sticks from others to your computer. You never know what’s what kind of software is stored on a USB stick; it may automatically run once it’s connected to your system. I highly recommend never using a USB stick from others.

Also, don’t leave your laptop unlocked near others, even if it’s just for a moment. Always make sure your computer is locked and that it has a complex password. The best case would be to utilise a password manager, so you don’t have to remember your passwords for all your websites, but they remain secure.

For IT admins there are a lot of good things we can be doing to make cyber hygiene a much better environment. For example, we should enforce updates on computers by default and always make sure that administrative privileges are only given to the people who need them. We need to understand certain behaviours happening on these endpoint devices and know which kinds of systems are becoming end-of-life. For example, if someone in your Finance Department is using a lot of Power Shell scripts, note that this is irregular for a Finance Department.

Data in laptops should always be encrypted in case of a loss, which can happen very easily when people travel. Laptops get stolen or are lost, and if you don’t encrypt the system, even with a password on the device, it’s not that difficult for threat actors to get access to the data in the end because they have physical access to the device itself. You should always have an inventory of all the hardware and software in your company, especially if people bring back different kinds of devices to your network, so you know whether it’s your device or not. And even if think you have everything under control, you should always have an incident and response plan so you know what is going to happen if, a laptop gets stolen.

How can employees continue to work from anywhere while travelling and connecting to their essential networks?

If possible, don’t connect to public Wi-Fi, especially if a lot of people are around the network. If you can connect to a public Wi-Fi, pretty much anyone in that area can as well, and you are not in control of what is happening on this network. You don’t know who is on this network or what they are doing, because you don’t control the security. If the network has bad security, then you now enable your system to be scanned directly by other people on this network.

I recommend different kinds of solutions to solve this problem. The best case would be to buy a SIM card from the specific country you are travelling to, to create your own hotspot, where only you are part of the network. If you travel around to different countries, another option is to buy a mobile Wi-Fi router and only use it by yourself. This way, it’s very easy, no matter where you are, to access this environment with usually low costs. And no matter what, if you must join a public network, avoid any sensitive task. Don’t do online payments or log into your bank accounts. This brings down the possibility of you being involved in a cyber security incident.

Social media becomes popular during travel. What should employees avoid when using social media to stay cyber-safe?

One thing I try to avoid is using social media accounts to log in to certain kinds of platforms. For example, if you connect to Wi-Fi, sometimes you are asked to create an account or log in with one of your social media accounts. If you log in with one of your social media accounts, typically you allow the people running the platform to get access to a lot of sensitive information. My recommendation to avoid this is to create a throwaway account for travelling. This account can be used for the specific purpose of connecting to Wi-Fi without any sensitive information being involved.

Another area to be cautious in with social media is the scams happening around instant messaging services. Social engineering is still one of the most prevalent and most successful tactics for gaining access to user accounts and the more information you expose from yourself and social media accounts, the easier you make it for attackers. One such example is people asking for help on social media websites like Reddit and other big forums. Sometimes, other users try to be helpful and ask for more details. But you need to be aware that if you start to post configuration files or sensitive information about your environments on public websites so others can help you, it’s also not that difficult for others to find this information with open-source intelligence techniques to take advantage of this information and use it against you.

QR codes became super popular for tracking during the last two years, and the potential risk of scanning QR codes is something that you need to keep in mind as well. Usually, when you scan a QR code, it opens a certain website on your device. If it opens a website, that website may be compromised and download malicious files to your device.

In Conclusion

As you embark on your summer travels, it’s crucial to stay vigilant about cyber hygiene to protect your digital life. From updating your systems and being cautious with public Wi-Fi to avoiding suspicious downloads and protecting your social media information, these steps are essential for a secure travel experience. Follow these tips to stay safe and enjoy your travels, knowing that your cyber defenses are up and running.

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