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An aircraft flying in the city; image used for HSBC Hong Kong travel cybersecurity checklist.

Security checklist before your next travel departure

Hongkongers are a travel loving bunch, spending a whopping USD25.5 billion on international tourism1 in 2017 to popular locations like Japan, Thailand and Australia. With so many of us taking flight, it's important to make sure you protect yourself and your money while you're away from home. Here's a handy checklist you can take along with your suitcases to keep cyber crime at bay:

1. Pre-flight checks

We're not just talking about keeping your window shades up or your seats upright before the plane takes off; it's important to ensure your smartphones and laptops have up-to-date operating systems and apps. These fraud prevention security measures are the first step in guarding against malware and other online threats and once you're abroad it might be tough finding Wi-Fi so you can download all your updates.

Once you've got that covered, consider the extra measure of ditching your physical token and switching to a Mobile Security Key. It'll ensure you have the top level of security for online banking, and you'll have one less gadget to carry with you.

2. Lock it down

Keep your digital devices – smartphones, laptops, tablets, and your security device – locked and secure with a password, fingerprint or facial ID at all times. Strengthen your mobile security by shortening the time your smartphone's auto lock mechanism takes to kick in, so strangers have less of a chance to grab hold of your mobile's active screen and apps.

Better yet: never leave your devices unattended. Keep them in your possession at all times, or safely secured in your hotel safe.

3. Keep your passwords private and strong

Personal data protection is pivotal. Never share the passwords or pin numbers for your devices, credit cards or debit cards with anyone. And don't save those passwords on your device either, or write them on post-its or notepads. Use a different password for each device, and don't use your online banking password for anything else. Choose one that will be easy for you to remember, but don't make it a normal word or phrase and don't use things that are associated with you, such as pet names, children’s names or the city you live in. Instead, use a (seemingly) random combination of at least eight letters (both upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. It might look like hieroglyphics to a stranger, but it could hold a special meaning for you so you can easily remember it. Need some inspiration? We've got some tips on how to create a strong password.

4. Be wary of public Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

While it's tempting to connect to any free Wi-Fi network you can find instead of purchasing a local data plan for your smartphone, this can pose a security threat to your personal data, especially if you use unencrypted networks. This is true even if you're just checking your email or social media. If you must use the hotel Wi-Fi platform to get online, avoid accessing any sites or data that contain or require your personal information.

Some venues actively look for devices with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on so they can track your movements while you are within range. To avoid this, disable your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you're not using them.

5. Keep sensitive information off public channels

If you have to use the computer, printer or phone at your hotel's business centre, make sure you're not using them to communicate sensitive information or private data. Anytime you sign in to an account on a public computer, make sure that you don't allow the site or the browser to save your log-in details. You never know who will be using the computer afterwards. Once you're finished, log off completely from all the pages you opened, especially if you've had to access your bank or email accounts.

6. Check the ATMs

If you have to use an ATM during your trip, take a second look before sliding in your bank card. In recent years we've seen scams like shell ATMs being set up to look exactly like the real thing, or ATM skimmers – malicious card readers – being attached to actual ATMs. If you put your bank card into one of those, it's not cash that comes out, but your card data and PIN – and it goes straight into the hands of the fraudsters.

Even if an ATM looks legitimate and is branded as that of a reputable bank you recognise, check for signs that it might be a fake. Does the pin shield detach easily from the machine? Are there two slots instead of just one insert your card into the machine? Are the arrows directing you to insert your card positioned oddly and does the keypad feel strange to the touch? Does any part of the ATM look like it's been tampered with and does it look different from the machine next to it? If so, don't use it.

Your safest bet is to use an ATM in a branch, during bank hours. That way, if the machine eats your card, you'll be able to talk to bank staff about getting it back immediately. If that happens at a different ATM, you'll need to call our customer support hotline and let us know, but you might be without your card for the rest of your trip.

Even if you are certain the ATM you're using is legitimate, there is one more danger to be aware of: peepers. People – or strategically placed cameras – who hope to spy on you as you enter that magic PIN on the keypad. Keep your wits about you when using any ATM and do your best to hide your fingers so no one can figure out your PIN. Find out more about staying safe at the ATM.

7. Keep track of your belongings

Make sure you keep your personal belongings accounted for while travelling, especially when you're on the move between different cities. It's not a good idea to keep your cash, credit or debit cards, laptop, cellphone and passport all in the same place, because you might be left completely stranded in the unfortunate event of being pick-pocketed, while the perpetrator has access to even more of your private information. Keep your guard up especially in crowded areas or during times when you may be momentarily distracted, like when you're having a meal with a large group of people or shopping in a crowded market.

8. One last step

The cybersecurity checklist doesn't end right when you board your return flight back. If you used local networks or Wi-Fi while you were overseas, your cellphone and laptop could be carrying spyware you're not aware of. Once you get home, update your security and antivirus software to the newest available versions, and change your device passwords.

We hope these tips will help keep you safe both at home and abroad. Each of the tips might protect something small, but the more you can protect, the fewer ways a cyber criminal will have of patching together your identity or committing a fraud. We've got lots of other tips that can help you maximise your banking security.

Planning a trip? Check out our other safe travel tips.  Bon voyage!

1 Source: Media Outreach article

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