Making Cents: Internet Security While Traveling
By: John P. Napolitano, CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST
The topic of Cyber Crimes has crept into our daily news and lives.
Even for those who claim that they don’t go online for sensitive data, especially financial data, still have reasons to be concerned. Just because you choose not to look at your bank or investment accounts online doesn’t mean that the information isn’t out there. It is out there, and available to you anytime that you choose to enter the modern world. And because it is out there, and on the servers from your providers, it too can be vulnerable to Cyber Crimes.
When you leave the comfort and protection of your home is where the trouble may really escalate. One caveat here, I am assuming that your home network is password protected and that your password is complex and changed at least a few times per year. If your home network is not password protected, stop reading this now and go set that up. But when on the road, most people look for Wi-Fi and typically opt for whatever free Wi-Fi connection that they can find.
In general, you shouldn’t use any public Wi-Fi unless there is absolutely nothing on your phone, tablet or computer. For many, that is nearly impossible. Going back to the person who doesn’t use online financial services, it is still possible, maybe even likely that you will get e mail from a financial institution from time to time. A clever crook doesn’t need a lot of information, they just need to know where to go and that e mail may be the only clue that they need.
Your best choice for Wi-Fi when travelling is to use a private network – one where you need a password or some other network provided key to get in. It only takes seconds for a good cyber-criminal to extract what they need of your personally identifiable information. But it would still make sense to log off, and maybe even shut down your device when you are done with the network.
When travelling internationally, your antenna should go up even higher. Certain countries like Russia, China, Brazil and Chile have been identified as particularly more risky. Consider looking into the FBI and the state department bulletins that are posted regarding information about cyber threats for the countries that you plan to visit.
If you tend to store a lot of information on your device, you may have higher risk. When travelling to a higher risk location, consider scrubbing your unnecessary data from the memory banks of your device. Some travelers even utilize a separate machine when travelling that do not have any sensitive data stored within.
As always, make sure that your passwords are strong and fresh. Frequent changes of passwords are highly encouraged for everyone, but perhaps even more so for those who travel to high risk areas. Don’t use the same passwords over and over again. And most significant, don’t carry around one of those dumb little notebooks with all of your internet passwords inscribed within.
John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA is CEO of U. S. Wealth Management in Braintree, MA. Visit JohnPNapolitano on LinkedIn or uswealthnapolitano.com. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.