Safer Online Holidays

July 13, 2009

I want to thank Patrick Runald, Chief Security Advisor, at F-Secure for the following guest post for our readers!

Travel plans and the Internet were clearly made for each other. There’s no better way of researching different destinations, comparing prices, and contemplating delicious holiday alternatives than the Internet. Whether it’s a trekking adventure through the rainforest, relaxing cruise or a fly-drive holiday you are looking for, the Internet provides a wealth of information at your fingertips.

So ease yourself into the traveling mood with an exotic drink, zoom into your chosen destination on Google Earth and enjoy the inside information from people who have been there. The online forums where travelers share tips and experiences can be an invaluable aid to planning your holiday and choosing where to stay.

Using the Internet as your holiday launch pad is extremely convenient. Millions of people are now doing all their travel preparations from the comfort of their home, including printing out their own flight tickets and doing the check-in online. To make sure everything goes smoothly, booking holidays online also requires some attention on the security front. By following a few simple safety measures you are all set for a wonderful trip.

Passport, inoculations, security

After checking that your passport is still valid, the first thing to do before booking the journey of your dreams is to make sure that your computer is ready for some online shopping action. Unfortunately, surfing the Internet without security software is these days a bit like choosing to travel to the middle of a yellow fever epidemic without having an inoculation.

The Internet has hundreds of thousands of contagious diseases, which have been specially designed by criminals to attack your computer, your privacy and your bank balance. So ensure your online wellbeing by protecting your computer with software like F-Secure Internet Security 2009, which stops those pesky viruses from infecting your system.

The next security concerns are your Internet connection and browser. In two short sentences, don’t trust unsecured wireless networks with your credit card details because they can be intercepted by outsiders. And do keep clicking on those security updates which keep Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox (or whatever browser you are using) patched up against the viruses.

Diving in, staying safe

Now you are ready to dive online into the colorful coral reef of exciting travel offers. There are definitely great holiday deals to be found online but it pays to keep vigilant against dodgy web sites. Don’t start your holiday by getting ripped off before you have even left your living room.

Make sure your chosen travel agency is a reputable company by checking it has a real address and a customer service phone number that answers your call. A quick online search of the operator’s name should reveal any issues you need to be aware of. It’s not unknown for travel companies to go out of business and leave their customers stranded in far-away places, so it’s better to be safe than sorry when you make a booking. Paying for your holiday by credit card usually provides some financial protection against such events, but it’s also important that you have appropriate travel insurance to cover your trip.

As you browse different holiday web sites, don’t fill in the pop-up questionnaires that may appear, even if they are offering bargains. These only bring more spam to your e-mail inbox and may also infect your computer with something nasty. The same goes for spam e-mail messages; never click on their attachments or links, or buy anything from junk mail.

Small print and secure payments

Give yourself time to think over the different holiday options and shop around for the best deals. Being flexible about departure dates by a few days can make a big difference in what you pay for a holiday. Before making the payment, don’t forget to double check all the information about your chosen trip, including all the taxes and supplements, departure times and dates. It’s worth making the effort to read the boring small print in the ‘terms and conditions’ to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Take special care when it comes to making the payment. Reputable companies have a secure web page for taking your personal details, which you can identify from a closed padlock or an unbroken key symbol , or a web address that begins with https:// – that extra ‘s’ stands for secure.

It’s good practice to print out the confirmation e-mails and receipts from the operator in case of any problems. If you are travelling somewhere remote, leave copies of the most important documents with a friend and take one copy with you on the trip. Always check your credit card and banks statements after paying for your holiday. Also remember to do this after the holiday, especially if you have been using a credit card abroad and notify your bank immediately if you spot something amiss.

Online away from home

Relax, you’re on holiday. Let your mind and body infuse with the new surroundings. But when you stroll cheerily into your hotel and think about using the computer in lobby, don’t forget that those Internet viruses are still lurking behind the screen. Only this time you have no idea and no control over how secure the computer and the Internet connection is. So think twice before offering your credit card details to the local online crime syndicate. The same goes for your e-mail passwords, online banking login details and other sensitive information.

Instead, set up a new e-mail account that you can use during the holiday for keeping contact with family and friends. Also use this temporary e-mail for booking local tours and other holiday activities. Even if it ends up on a spamming list, the problem does not affect your normal e-mail.

If you are using a mobile phone abroad, keep in mind that the cost for calls and surfing the net is probably much more expensive than at home. Your phone may also be targeted by unfamiliar mobile viruses through mms messages or your phone’s Bluetooth connection. Installing security software before the trip is highly recommended. Also don’t give your phone to anyone for ‘tuning’ or new screen savers because this is an easy way to get infected.

Laptop users should also not take risks with sending sensitive information over unsecured wireless networks. If using the Web is an essential part of your holiday plans, then check that your hotel has its own secured wireless network before making a booking. Have a safe and wonderful holiday, and don’t forget to send a postcard!

Mom 4 Life. Now that Ashley owns Mom 4 Life, I am focusing my energies in homeschooling and asking God to use me in other areas.

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