Data protection expert Barry Cook of VFS Global advises on cyber security on the move

Airport Wi-Fi, public USB-charging stations and location sharing can undermine your cybersecurity. We’re increasingly open and, in turn, susceptible to data hacks.

Snoopers lurking on public networks at airports, tampered USB-charging points and personal updates across social media platforms can all pose risks.

So it’s important to stay safe not just at home, but while on the move – and to plan ahead where possible.

This does not mean you need to shut down devices for the duration of a trip for fear of a hack or data breach – just that you need to take some actions to mitigate risk if you will be working and accessing personal and workplace data while travelling.

Here are some simple steps to keep data safe this Christmas and New Year:

Lock your devices

Most smartphones, laptops and tablets come with security settings that enable you to lock the device using a PIN number or fingerprint ID. Do this on every available device.

While traveling, change the PIN numbers to access your data. Once home, repeat this to mitigate your exposure to a breach.

Update operating systems

Before you set off, be sure to update the operating systems across your devices. This includes apps on your phone – and it is worth considering disabling, or even deleting, those that carry personal and financial information for the duration of your trip.

Be cautious of public Wi-Fi networks

Laws and regulations governing online security vary from country to country. Free Wi-Fi access can be appealing while at an airport or train station, but it carries security risks.

It is also worth avoiding Internet cafes and free Wi-Fi hotspots unless they carry password requirements. Even if they have this layer of protection, it’s best to avoid accessing personal accounts or sensitive data on such a network.

Avoid using USB-charging ports

Publicly accessible USB ports carry real risk to devices and data. Termed ‘juice-jacking’, the threat has grown considerably in recent years and allows criminals to load malware on to the phones and other devices of unsuspecting users.

The malware can lock devices and export data such as passwords direct to the scammer.

It is advisable to carry a mains charger while travelling or to use a personal power bank. In short, you should avoid public USB ports.

Disable auto-connect and Bluetooth features

Most phones in the UK and Europe have settings that allow a device to automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks. While this is a handy feature, it does carry risk when traveling abroad.

Before travel, change this setting so that your smartphone and laptop ask before connecting each time you wish to access the Internet. The same should apply to Bluetooth connectivity while you’re away.

Unless you absolutely have to use Wi-Fi, it’s best to keep this function switched off for the duration of your trip. This will also extend the battery life of your device.

Scale back location sharing

It’s common to update social media while travelling to new cities and countries. The problem with this is that it creates a security threat.

By signalling your location, you make it easy for a criminal to determine you’re not in your hotel room or at home and can leave personal belongings vulnerable to an intrusion.

Limit the information you post online about your whereabouts – and, before leaving on a trip, consider how accessible your content is beyond your followers and close friends.

Let your bank know you’re on the move

This is a simple step that is invariably overlooked by travellers. Yet it has become so much easier to perform thanks to the rise of mobile and internet banking applications. Gone are the days of having to go into a branch or sit on hold on the phone to speak to your bank.

Most banking apps carry an encrypted chat or messaging feature which allows you to notify them of your movements. This quick and largely painless action before a trip can help nip potential credit or debit-card fraud in the bud and allow you to access your money without the fear, and headache, of limitations being imposed on your account.

It’s better to be safe than sorry, so do be mindful of the risks before setting out and do your best to minimise these.

Wishing your all a restful and cyber-secure festive break.