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Staying secure on the go: Essential security habits for every business traveler

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The incessant demands made upon the digital platform today by businesses have made it essential for travelers to always be connected with their professional and social networks without a pause. Be it on a family holiday to the picturesque beaches of Bali or a business trip to Sudan, a business professional must always be available across various communication channels to address and respond to any situation that might arise in his or her absence.

Trends reflect this phenomenon – nearly 96 percent of travelers are equipped with smartphones with every third individual carrying a laptop and almost a quarter armed with a tablet. But, while digital connectivity is a top priority for business travelers, how many of them include security in their checklist of must-do things?

Not many, if a recent study is anything to go by. The report highlighted alarming trends in traveler data usage behaviour while travelling to an exotic location.  According to the study, nearly 70% of travelers choose to access the internet and social platforms through free public WiFi connections. Moreover, while 20% are wary of using free Wi-Fi services, they still end up consuming data through open connections at airports, hotels and restaurants. That leaves a meagre 10% of travelers who take adequate measures such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection to protect their devices from malicious attacks while on the go.

In a digital age with shrinking global borders, such callousness can lead to a serious breach of an individual’s and connected business’s confidential data. Since digital connectivity and travelling play such a pivotal role in everyday functioning of professionals and businesses, here are a few tips and insights that could allow business travellers to jet, set, and go without compromising their digital security:

Go updated and go prepared: The key to successful security behaviour during transit is preparation. This includes plugging all potential security loopholes in your digital devices by updating all software and applications.

Undertaking this measure ensures that your device is at a minimum risk of exposure to attacks through prompts for software updates which are in reality malicious codes with fake digital certificates. Moreover, updating all applications will also update the database for your security software with the latest malware signatures, thereby augmenting the device’s security.

Be wary with open networks: There are no free lunches. Free and secure Wi-Fi connections are rarer still. Never access any open Wi-Fi network at airports and hotels without first verifying its credentials with the relevant authorities; cybercriminals often set up malicious networks posing as bona-fide service providers with a view to eavesdropping on the traveler’s device data traffic. Networks with freely available passwords are much more preferable in such cases, as they generate unique keys for every user session, thus decreasing the possibility of someone intercepting and decrypting your personal information.

VPN is a must: A virtual private network (VPN) is a very handy tool in case of travelling, as it allows users to send and receive data through encrypted tunnels. VPNs can help protect internet traffic and are secure enough to allow data transmission through otherwise harmful open connections.

Download only from trusted sources: Be very, very wary of downloading anything while you’re on the go and hooked through an exotic connection. Malware developers try to lure unsuspecting travellers into downloading and installing their malicious codes or trojanized program into their computers by posing as genuine service providers.

As such, new installation or updating must be avoided during travelling, if possible, and must only be done directly from trusted vendor websites if absolutely necessary.

Say no to public devices: Considering the fact that computers in places such as hotels and internet kiosks are open to public usage, the veracity of their security quotient can never be confirmed. You may not be aware if these systems have been compromised with a keylogger to capture your keystrokes or a Trojan to access your confidential information. As such, these systems must never be used for any  business purposes. Avoid visiting websites and services that are password protected when accessing public computers.

Do not ignore physical security: Assuming your digital devices are at a greater risk to be compromised in transit, it is imperative that you do not leave them unattended at any time. To accommodate for a higher possibility of loss or theft of device, additional measures such as password protection must be implemented, though this only provides a low level of protection. Disable CD or USB drive booting functionality on your travel in BIOS setting to prevent hackers from bypassing password protection and encrypt the hard drive with encryption utilities from trusted sources to protect confidential data. Along with keeping the digital asset usage restricting to yourself avoiding shoulder surfing without giving the access of your device even on request basis, if yes keep an eye.

Maintain a travel device: Even after several measures, it is still possible that a hacker might be able to bypass all your security arrangements and gain access to your system. Therefore, it always pays to have a handy travel-only device with minimal data during your travels if possible. Doing so ensures that even if your device is somehow accessed without authorization, the risk of compromising sensitive individuals and business data remains limited to that particular device. Such devices must be actively scrubbed upon return to wipe clean any potential security risk.

Caution is the keyword: Even if your data has not been compromised, it is often best to be cautious and assume the worst. Change all your personal and professional passwords after the travel in order to reduce the risk of data compromise.

For business travelers, travelling and data connectivity can no longer be separated. Implementing these tips and measures can lead to much stronger security for their digital devices, thereby decreasing the risk of breach, of confidential, sensitive information.

Amit Nath is Country Manager India & SAARC- F-Secure.

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