How to Have a Safe & Secure Summer

Couple on vacation, taking a picture of selves in front of Eiffel TowerSome tips from ISG about keeping safe and secure when you’re out and about this summer.

Be smart about that phone

If you’re like a growing number of people, you have a smartphone that goes everywhere you do, and when you travel, you carry it in pocket or purse along with other essentials such as your drivers license and/or passport.  Unfortunately, if you’re also like a lot of people, chances are good that you’ll  lose that phone.

According to the mobile security firm Lookout, it’s often not a matter of whether or not you’ll misplace your phone, but when and where. Lookout recently released statistics that answer the question “How, when and where are phones lost around the world?” You can view the interactive maps and charts on their Mobile Lost & Found site. The tech news site CNET summarized the stats for those who would like to take it all in on one page (see Dude, where’s your phone?  Lookout knows …  and tells).

Similarly, PCWorld reported in “Lost Smartphone?  Don’t Plan On Seeing It Again” on Symantec’s “Smartphone Honeystick Project”, which tracked what would happen to 50 phones they intentionally lost.  Key findings:

  • 96% of lost smartphones were accessed by the finders of the devices
  • 89% of devices were accessed for personal-related apps and information
  • 83% of devices were accessed for corporate-related apps and information
  • 70% of devices were accessed for both business- and personal-related apps and information
  • 50% of smartphone finders contacted the owner and provided contact information

Bottom line:  It’s easy to lose something as small as a phone. Take as much care with it as you would a laptop or tablet as it may contain or provide access to confidential information you wouldn’t want to share. Use the device’s existing security features, such as a password-protection, and consider adding a security app.

Secure your connection

Icon shows a strong wireless signal with lots of barsIf public wi-fi is your only option when traveling, use Brown’s VPN to give you the security of an encrypted network. To make it easier and so you don’t forget, make your homepage.

It’s also a good idea to prep your device before leaving: remove any confidential information from it, turn off file and printer sharing if using it, configure it to black inbound connections, keep wireless off when not using it, disable auto-connect features, avoid public wireless.  See ISG’s checklist Laptop Security for the Traveler for details. Though aimed primarily at laptop users, much of the advice is applicable to tablets and smartphones.  See the page  Secure Wireless When Traveling for more tips and technical information.

Socialize safely

Twitter logoYou’re having such a great time that you just have to share it with everyone, so you update your FB status, fire off a tweet,  put photos of you and the Palace guard on your Picassa vacation album, upload a video of your dog’s stroll through Kensington Gardens, and then pin a picture of the restaurant where you just had an amazing lunch to a London Pinterest board. Whew!

While we were taught that sharing is as good thing, you can also have “too much of a good thing”, and to cite another cliche, “it can come back to bite you.”  So take a few precautions and keep your eyes open when being social online.  Here are a few guidelines.

  • Settings. Make sure your privacy settings are appropriate for such apps as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. For an idea of what some of the threats are, read “Cybercrooks bring their schemes to Tumblr and Pinterest.”
  • Plug-ins. Avoid installing these, which could lead to exposure of your private information and access to your account. In turn, it could be used to spam others or become part of a scam, leading to click-fraud, such as the recently sighted cross-brower ‘LilyJade’ Worm.  Instead, we recommend following security expert Brian Krebs 3 Basic Rules for Online Safety:  1. If you didn’t go looking for it, don’t install it. 2. If you installed it, update it. 3. If you no longer need it, remove it.
  • Content. Be careful what you post. You may want to share your trip with others, but mentioning when you’ll be out of town could be helpful to burglars. Saying where you are or pictures of you in a recognizable location may be information that you don’t want to get into the hands of a scam artist (such as the “Mugged in London” scheme).


Example of smishing text, offering recipient a $1000 gift card to Walmart by clicking on a link

You may have gotten used to ignoring “too good to be true offers” in email but not recognize them in a different context such as text messages.  As a result, you might be more likely to click on a link in a text.  These smishing attempts (SMs phISHING) are just as dangerous as the ones in email and are pervasive enough that a daytime talk show, like Anderson, has run a segment on it. As with email, if it smells “phishy”, it probably is.

Sharing holiday snaps . . . safely

Man taking a pictureImagine that you’re perched on the summit of a peak you’ve just scaled and take a photo of the amazing view. Or that you’ve finally reeled in that monster of a fish and your buddy snaps a picture of you and your catch.  Or that your family reunion culminated with a photo session of the four generations attending and you want to upload it to an album for those who couldn’t be there. Before doing so, consider just how public you want to make these images.

If uploading to Picasa, check that you use the appropriate privacy settings.

Bear in mind that public Picasa web albums are visible to anyone on the web and can be found in web search results, but that you control who has access to your albums and can change your album visibility settings to a more private level at any time.  A similar process applies to Flickr.

Also keep in mind the image file’s metadata, i.e., the descriptive information stored along with the image) (see “Protect Your Privacy When Uploading Photos”), particularly generated by your GPS function (see “Web Photos That Reveal Secrets, Like Where You Live”).

GPS tracking

Speaking of GPS, you can also use it to keep track of your kids when traveling. Two new apps  — FBI Child and Footprints — were recently reviewed in the New York Times article “Digital Guardians That Help Ease the Fears of Parents” and recommended as worth downloading.


Enjoy your vacation time and time to unwind, but don’t let it be ruined when taking a few simple precautions might have kept it picture perfect!

  1. Physical safety. Keep your possessions close at hand or securely stored. For example, don’t put your phone in a back or side pocket where it could easily slip unnoticed between the seat cushions of a cab or rental car.
  2. Online safety. Never access or transmit any personal information over a public wi-fi.  Apply the same precautions when reading email on your smartphone as you do on your office or home computer. Careful what hidden information you upload.  Always know what your privacy settings are. Make sure your device has security software with current definitions.
  3. Common Sense. Acquire a general level of vigilance.  The next threat may be something totally unfamiliar, but if it raises suspicions, steer clear.