As we slowly come out of the pandemic and start traveling again, we should take a few minutes to refresh ourselves on the digital dangers associated with travel. Traveling is a prime time of risk for your mobile devices – including smartphones, laptops, and tablets – whether from theft or hacking. However, there are steps you can take to help protect your devices and data. We’ll go over some recommendations for you before and while traveling.
Protecting Your Data Before you go
One of the most important things to do before you leave on a trip is to make sure you have a fresh backup of all your mobile devices’ data. It may be as simple as syncing your phone and computer, or perhaps a download of your photos. If your mobile devices are backed up to your computer, make sure they are backed up first, then back up your computer to save all data. And leave your backup drive someplace safe (your office or home) and not packed alongside your laptop!
Aside from backing up your data, it is also essential to ensure your devices are encrypted. Backing up your data ensures you have a good copy to keep safe and sound. Encryption helps protect your data from being accessed even if your devices are lost or stolen.
Encrypting the drive on your computer and mobile devices is relatively easy these days, and in some cases, automatic. Microsoft, Apple, and Google all provide a means to encrypt the hard drive on your computer or mobile devices. Android and iOS (Apple) mobile devices are encrypted by default as long as you have a passcode set to lock your device. Windows has Microsoft’s BitLocker to enable whole disk encryption. Similarly, Apple provides FileVault built into Mac computers. It would be best if you planned to encrypt your data in advance, as it can take several hours to run.
Securing Your Devices
Your mobile devices are just as vulnerable as your laptop. Ensure that you apply the latest updates to your computer and other mobile devices. A quick Google search for “How to check computer updates” should quickly get you the steps needed for your computer.
It is best to apply security updates as soon as they are available to minimize your exposure to holes discovered in the software. It would be best to take advantage of the auto-update feature that many programs and systems provide. They automatically connect and update themselves on your devices to defend against known risks.
Ensuring all the updates are applied to your devices will help ensure all known “back doors” are closed. However, it would be silly to do all that and then leave the front door wide open. Use strong passwords or touch ID features to lock your devices to help protect your information in the event your devices are ever lost or stolen.
Once you have a good password in place, you should ensure that you enable the auto-lock feature on your devices. If you leave your device unattended, it will automatically lock after a specified amount of time and require your password to unlock it.
Now that you’ve taken measures to prepare for potential problems, let’s look at things you can do while traveling to help minimize the risk of having any trouble to begin with.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Just like at an ATM, you need to protect sensitive information you may be typing into your mobile devices while in public. You should sit with your back to the wall, shield the keypad when entering passwords or pins, and use a screen protector to obscure your screens.
To prevent theft, unauthorized access, or loss of sensitive information, never leave your mobile devices unattended, even for a moment, in public places.
Don’t even THINK of leaving your laptop sitting out in your hotel room! Make sure it’s turned off and locked in your hotel room safe, along with any sensitive documents.
Thieves often target travelers. Mealtimes are optimum times for thieves to check hotel rooms for unattended laptops. If you are attending a conference or trade show, be especially wary. These venues offer thieves a more comprehensive selection of devices that are likely to contain sensitive information. The conference sessions provide more opportunities for thieves to access guest rooms.
Protect Your Connections
Protecting your property from physical theft can be a bit more intuitive than the risks that exist electronically. It is crucial to be cautious with who might be snooping on you electronically and take measures to protect the privacy and security of your mobile devices.
Never trust Public WiFi! Choose known WiFi networks such as the one your hotel provides. If you must connect to Public WiFi, always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) (see below), or use a personal/mobile hotspot for more security.
You might be surprised at the lack of security of your nearby Starbucks network or even your hotel’s network. A VPN encrypts all your communication to the network you’re connected to, protecting you from eavesdropping on those less-than-secure networks. Your company may have provided one for work. Still, if you’re using your personal devices, there are affordable VPN services available. Never trust a free VPN!
Some stores and other locations look for devices with WiFi or Bluetooth turned on to track your movements while you are within range. This information is then sold and aggregated to track where you go, where you shop, etc. In addition to privacy concerns, WiFi and Bluetooth vulnerabilities can be used to hack into computers. To avoid both the risk of compromise and to retain the privacy of your location, disable WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use.
Be Aware of What’s Being Shared
Set the privacy and security settings on web services and devices to your comfort level for information sharing. People will often post on Facebook that they’re traveling and other details about that travel. It has occurred in the past where criminals had been monitoring people’s Facebook posts to know when they would be out of town to assess when to burglarize their homes. Similarly, other information you have shared on social media websites could make you a target for social engineering or other nefarious acts. Be sure to review the settings for who can see what you post, who your friends are, and other details that you do not feel a need to share openly. Be mindful of the information you post to others and what risk that information may pose to you.
Many of us download apps for specific purposes, like travel planning or attending a conference, but no longer need them afterward. It’s good security practice to delete all apps you no longer need. All software installed on your devices and computers can introduce additional risk. So, removing the things you don’t need can significantly reduce your risk.
The above practices and suggestions can help keep your devices and data safe. Perhaps not every recommendation applies to your circumstances. Still, it is a good idea to review your habits and practices and determine what you can do to help prevent a trip from turning into something ugly and painful.