When you bring your mobile phone, laptop, or tablet on your international travels, you might have thought about keeping your devices safe from damage or theft. But have you considered data security? Traveling overseas with electronics opens you up to a number of data security dangers. Whether you are a business traveler carrying important corporate information and client records, or a tourist concerned about identity theft, a data breach while you travel could have repercussions that last long after your trip. Today, we’ll review some simple ways to keep your personal data safe from hackers and thieves while you travel.
Data Security Begins With Device Security
The easiest way for someone to get in to your private data is if they can get their hands on your device. Your pricey smartphone and notebook computer are tempting targets for thieves. If your devices are stolen, not only are you going to have to pay to replace them, but you risk having your accounts hacked!
When you travel, use the same kind of caution with your phone, tablet, laptop, and other data devices that you do with your wallet and passport. Don’t leave your laptop unattended on a cafe table, and don’t keep your phone in your back pocket where a pickpocket could easily grab it.
Another easy precaution is to password-protect all of your devices. Use an alphanumeric pin or password to lock the screens of your electronics, to make it more difficult for a thief to access your private information.
Back Up Your Data Before You Travel
What would happen if one of your electronic devices was lost, stolen, or damaged beyond repair while you are traveling? You might be out hundreds or thousands of dollars in replacement costs, but the data you could lose is priceless. Imagine it… the reports and presentations you’ve spent weeks of work creating, gone. Years of family photos lost. Your videos, your music collection, everything. Terrifying, isn’t it?
Luckily, it isn’t hard to protect your data by backing it up. You can save your data to other computers that you keep at home or at work, onto external storage devices, or even onto cloud-based storage platforms.
Bring Minimal Data on Your Travels
If you’re worried about someone getting unauthorized access to the data on your devices while you travel, there’s a simple way to protect yourself. Strip your devices of unnecessary data before you leave the US! Even if a thief nabs your laptop, or a hacker cracks in to your computer, they won’t be able to steal data that isn’t there.
This is particularly important if you are a business traveler who might carry sensitive client or company information. Your company might be able to provide you with a loaner laptop or smartphone that is loaded with basic programs and apps, but doesn’t contain any private files.
If you are only carrying your personal devices, you may want to consider temporarily removing your financial data, or any banking or shopping apps that link to your credit card or bank accounts. It’s not a bad idea to also remove any personal photos or videos that might be embarrassing if they were seen by the wrong eyes!
Travel With External Data Storage
Sometimes you have no choice but to bring critical data with you when you travel. One way to keep it safe is to store it on an external data storage device, like a USB driver or SD card, instead of on your laptop or smartphone. That way, if someone hacks into your system over the internet, they won’t be able to access the data that is saved on the separate device.
Watch Out for Public Wi-Fi
Many of us depend on wi-fi when we travel. Nowadays, it isn’t hard to find free wi-fi when you’re overseas. You may be able to find wi-fi signals in airports, hotels, train stations, and restaurants.
Wi-fi is convenient, but it comes with risks. You’re particularly vulnerable when you use a completely open signal that doesn’t require a password to log in. It isn’t difficult for a hacker to view any unencrypted transmissions you send over a wireless network. The safest way to use public wi-fi as you travel is to use Virtual Private Network (VPN) software. Your company should be able to help you set this up, if you are traveling for business. You can also subscribe to VPN services on your own for just a few dollars a month.
Not able to set up a VPN for your tablet or smartphone? You can improve your data security by making sure all the web browsing you do on public wi-fi is all encrypted. The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers an easy way to do this. All you have to do is install their HTTPS Everywhere app. This app automatically encrypts all your communication with major websites like webmail hosts.
For extra security, turn off the wi-fi on your phone and other devices when you aren’t actively using it.
Another option is to use your data plan on your mobile phone instead of public wi-fi. Cellular data networks are much more secure. If you have an international data plan, it’s worth using it for sensitive transmissions.
Think Twice About Using That Hotel Computer!
Once upon a time, the only way we could get on to the internet while traveling was to use a public computer. If you wanted to check your email, read an online newspaper from back home, to type up a report for work, your only choice was to go to an internet cafe or use a public computer at your hotel.
Using a public computer on your travels is risky business. They rarely have anti-virus software installed, and can be full of suspicious software installed by other users over the years. It’s much safer to connect to the internet using your own personal device. But sometimes you need to use a desktop computer… most likely, to print out a boarding pass! When you sit down at a public computer, follow the tips below to protect your data security.
- Use the web browser’s “incognito” or private browsing mode to prevent your details and browsing history from being saved.
- Log out of all accounts as soon as you are done. Don’t leave your Hotmail or YouTube account open for the next user to view! You can even restart the computer when you are finished using it.
- Don’t do anything involving money on a public computer. That means no online banking, no shopping, no PayPal, no buying plane tickets or reserving your next hotel with your credit card details.
Should You Sign Out of Social Media Accounts Before You Fly?
In the wake of President Trump’s January 2017 travel ban, there have been an increasing number of stories of travelers being ordered by US border agents to unlock their phones. However, this is not a new phenomenon. US Customs and Border Protection reports that they searched more than 19,000 digital devices belonging to arriving travelers in fiscal year 2016, before President Trump took office. The number of digital searches is increasing, though. In the first six months of fiscal year 2017, nearly 15,000 searches of phones and other electronics were carried out.
Your chances of having a US border patrol officer ask you to unlock your phone are slim. Close to 400 million passengers arrive in the US every year. Fewer than one hundredth of one percent of those travelers are subjected to an electronic search.
If you are requested to unlock your phone by Homeland Security agents when you arrive in the US, as a US citizen, you do have the right to refuse. But should you refuse? That’s up to you, but if you don’t comply, you could be held in detention for hours, or your device could be seized.
There are steps you can take to limit the amount of private data a border agent can view on your phone. You can protect your privacy with many of the data security tips listed above. Limit what an agent could see by carrying minimal data, using external storage devices, or using a temporary device. You can also sign out of your social media accounts, or even temporarily delete those apps from your devices.
What steps do you take to protect your digital privacy when you travel? Tell us your data security tips in the comments.