Protecting your identity and your online finances is hard enough in itself. It is even more of a challenge when you are trying to rest on vacation in an unfamiliar place – especially abroad. Likewise, stealing money from your bank account will be an unpleasant event – but much worse when it happens while on vacation, away from home. However, if you think about it early enough, there are a few preventive measures you can take to protect yourself from unpleasantness.
First, no matter what devices you plan to take with you on your trip, make sure they are secured by downloading all available updates for installed applications and software. Also make sure they have the latest version of the operating system. If you don’t apply any authorization barrier to every device you own, you could be in trouble. Therefore, remember to set a lock on each of them in advance, using a strong, unique and complex password. It is also important to use a reliable security product. The principle that if your computer is unsecured, so is your money, is not a stretch.
If you want to go even further, you should encrypt your hard drive on every device that has one. You should also consider having a travel computer. Next week I’m going to Las Vegas for a security conference. While Black Hat doesn’t have the reputation of the DEF CON conference that starts next weekend, I still feel a little uncomfortable knowing that I am taking my computer to a place where it will be swarmed with hackers and computer geeks of all sorts. Luckily, I have a Chromebook that’s perfect for the occasion. I will clean it sooner and use it to take notes during speeches. If I want to access email, online banking or any of my many online accounts,
For mobile devices: If you intend to use your phone to check your email while traveling or monitor your bank balance, then as always, avoid public WiFi networks. Although this is not a free option, it is safer to buy a temporary global data transmission package from your operator, which will allow you to surf the Internet via 3G or 4G networks.
If you are using a laptop, invest in a VPN or use one of the free options available. Whenever possible, try to get mobile verification with your bank so that it requires some form of two-factor authentication. Most online banks offer a second layer of authentication using codes (mTAN). These codes can work in several different ways, but basically the user gets a list of numbers and must enter one of them each time he tries to withdraw money or make a transaction. MTAN codes are used only once. Often, the user can access the bank account in the traditional way (i.e. using a password or PIN), but without the mTAN code, he will not be able to transfer money. As you can imagine, it would be quite difficult for a cybercriminal to get an active mTAN code.
When you are on vacation and not only, confirmation via SMS is a good protection for all websites. Gmail, Facebook, your bank, as well as many other online services you use, have a two-factor authentication feature that allows you to receive an SMS confirmation every time you log in. That’s a great deal. It can be a bit irritating at times, but at least you’ll know when someone tries to break into your bank account. If you receive an SMS confirmation code, you will know that someone has your password and is trying to log into your account, which means you should change it as soon as possible. Naturally, you’ll have to work out later how that person came into possession of your password, but that’s another story.
Regardless of what was mentioned earlier, some credit cards offer another „step” in verification after you enter your name, credit card number, expiry date and a security code called CVV. In my case it is „Verified by Visa” and I admit it can be annoying. Every time I want to buy something online with my credit card, I need to enter my Visa verified password. On the other hand, this way I can be sure no one is stealing my money, which is a good thing.
If you want extra security, you can also pay for an insured credit card. Many people think that insured cards are a scam and a waste of money, but people often say so until something bad happens to them. If your credit card is stolen, you will certainly not regret paying extra for its insurance in advance. However, know that even if you follow all of the suggested advice, you still need to use your credit or debit cards wisely. So be careful who you entrust these things to, and don’t fall into skimmer traps.