When traveling to new countries, it’s important to look up what areas are safe, and which to avoid due to crime and danger. For avoiding things like theft, staying in touristy neighborhoods generally does the trick, but cybercrime doesn’t really stick to a given neighborhood, and securing your devices when abroad should be taken as seriously as avoiding sketchy areas of a given city.
In 2018, more than $4 billion were stolen by hackers. In 2019 that number almost doubled, and with so many people forced to be home due to COVID, it rose significantly again in 2020. As remote work is expected to continue at a high rate after the pandemic, coupled with a worldwide yearn to travel after a year of restrictions, digital crime abroad will be a very legitimate threat for the foreseeable future. Here are 6 tips to keep your devices secure when traveling in the post-pandemic world.
Consider If You Actually Need to Take All Your Devices
Instead of getting right into protection tips, many experts say it is most helpful to first take a step back and consider if you even need to take all of your devices on international trips to begin with.
“The easiest answer of course is if you can travel without taking your device please do so. This is the only surefire way of 100% protection” says Professor Brian Gant, Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at Maryville University. “However I know that may not be realistic in todays world. If you are able to purchase a “temporary” phone or what is commonly called a “burner” phone for the trip. This is commonly done in the cyber world when visiting DEFCON and other hacking events.”
“If you do take your own device minimize the amount of connected devices you might take along that contain your information. As an example, don’t take your iPhone, iPad and Macbook which are all inter connected, just take one.”
Thankfully, with cloud technology, we are able to make these safety decisions without limiting access to data or projects. Our next tips will help guide you through making sure the devices you do decide to bring stay secure throughout the entire trip.
Before You Go – Device Security
Even if you don’t think you have any personal information stored on your computer, you probably still do from having used a credit card to make a purchase online, or having filled out a form. With that, clearing your history should be a frequent habit anyway, but a definite one before traveling abroad. If you do have a lot of personal information stored on your devices, transfer that data to a removable storage device, or even the cloud (though this brings its own set of security issues) to minimize any damage that could occur if your device would, indeed, get hacked during travel.
After protecting data, another before-you-go security essential is updating passwords.
“Create a strong password or passphrase that has a combination of numbers, upper and lower case characters and special characters.” says Professor Gant.
“If using a laptop disable any ports you don’t need and encrypt any sensitive information. Download the latest antivirus and spyware for your device and if you are savvy enough you can install an additional firewall for protection.”
Installing VPN software is also a good move, as it makes your device’s location appear to be stateside when it’s noticed on a network, making you less of a target, and also minimizing (or altering) location data that hackers can access.
Before You Go – Home Security
If you’re a frequent social media poster during your travels, it’s also important to make your home security more robust before your travels, as some hackers look to see social media users who are away from home, and then attempt to access their home networks and the personal and financial information stored there.
Just as with your devices and social media accounts, you should also change your network security key frequently, and especially before traveling. It’s something that can generally be done from an app, so changing it mid-trip after you start letting the world know you’re travelling is also a possibility. Saving those pictures until you get home is the best thing to do, though!
When traveling, dependence on our devices is even greater than it is while stateside, thus, making sure your phone never leaves your side is important for many reasons. In addition to the headaches that are caused by phone theft abroad, hackers will also look to access random devices they see charging at places like hostels or restaurants. Be sure to update your passwords, and 2-factor verification should also be a no-brainer when travelling.
Be wary of utilizing public networks, but generally the same rules apply abroad as they do stateside. Never “autoconnect” to public networks, and never make your device discoverable on those networks. If you’re in a place like a hostel where you’ll be using the same public network for an extended period, you should up the frequency of the passwords on any application that you’ve shared personal information.
Even if you don’t notice any signs of hacking or disruptions on your devices and computer, it’s still a good practice to update your security software, as foreign viruses can be just that to older security programs.
Being cautious is the name of the game for device and computer security abroad, and taking a few easy steps makes you a difficult target for hackers, who tend to just move on to the next when they are having trouble accessing a given target’s information.