Whether you travel regularly for business or just like exploring new places, travelling brings a whole set of digital security threats. While business travellers are especially vulnerable because they have all sorts of business data stored in their devices, everyone is at risk of security breaches, including identity theft, credit card fraud, or cyberstalking.
If you maintain your digital security when you travel, there is no reason to cancel your travel plans out of fear that you might get hacked. Here are some ways you can keep your data and devices safe when you travel abroad.
Keeping your devices locked is your first line of defense in case you misplace them or lose them to pickpockets. An unprotected device can and will result in the theft of company or personal information.
If you’re travelling with a company-issued laptop or device, your IT department will already have set up a PGP key or device password. If your device doesn’t have one yet, ask your IT department to create it. Once you receive your password, change it to something that you will remember easily, but is too complicated or obscure for thieves to hack.
If you have a smartphone or tablet, it probably comes with security settings that will allow you to lock and unlock it with a PIN, a pattern, a fingerprint, or facial recognition. If possible, make your PIN longer than four digits (six digits is good enough for most purposes) and avoid using a very common password, like 1234 or 0000.
The point of locking your devices is to make your data harder to access, buying you time to recover it or, in extreme cases, to delete it. The more complicated your device’s unlocking mechanism is, the more difficult it is for an unauthorized person to use it.
We’ve already discussed changing your device passwords as soon as your IT department has set them up. The reason you should change your default password is that you don’t know who’s had access to your device, whether it’s physically or online, and you should always keep other people guessing.
Some businesses don’t require password changes. However, most organisations require password changes every 90 days, which is an industry best practice. If you are travelling with your devices, you should be more careful and change your password a bit more frequently
The best passwords are those that are completely generated randomly. But the problem with coming up with a strong password is that the thing that makes it hard to crack is also the same thing that makes it hard to remember.
Here is a table that illustrates the differences between strong passwords and weak ones.
Longer than 8 characters
Phrases or sentences
Combination of letters, numbers, symbols, punctuation marks
Uncommon combinations of words, riddles, or slogans that are easy to remember but hard to guess for an outsider
Shorter than 8 characters
Single word or number string
Easy-to-guess strings, like “Password”, “Love”, names, birthdays, or anniversaries
In addition, you should have different passwords for each app or website that you use to keep those who gain access to your devices from stealing your information or engaging in fraudulent activity. While it’s hard to remember all your passwords for multiple apps, a good password manager will help you sign into each one without much trouble. If possible, enable two-factor authentication, which requires you to enter both a password and a one-time code that is sent to your email or phone.
Changing your passwords regularly will make it difficult for someone to break into your device and steal your data. Using different uncommon passwords for your apps and accounts will make hacking even harder and will improve your digital security drastically.
You might find Bluetooth useful for such things as transferring files between devices and listening to music with wireless earphones, but it also leaves your devices vulnerable to all sorts of cyber security threats.
If you leave your Bluetooth radio on, anyone with a Bluetooth device can connect to it and hack into your devices. From there, there’s no guessing what they could do. Keep Bluetooth disabled as much as possible when you travel. If you absolutely need to use it, set up a strong password and don’t give it out to others.
You should also protect your mobile hotspot the same way. If at all possible, don’t use it; if you can’t avoid using it, like when you work in a place without a good, secure wi-fi connection, make your password as strong as you can make it.
Free wi-fi access can be very appealing for travellers, especially if data charges in the places they visit are expensive. However, not all EU countries comply with GDPR or have stringent cybersecurity laws, so you can’t be too sure you’ll have the same level of protection that you enjoy in your own country.
Using an unencrypted wi-fi network is probably the worst thing you could do in terms of data security when travel. It will leave your device vulnerable to hacking and open it up to different kinds of security breaches. If you use VPNs to torrent privately or to access business apps, using a public wi-fi network will also expose your VPN to cyber attacks and put your colleagues’ data at risk.
That being said, you should also disable auto-connect on your devices as it will keep them from connecting from unencrypted wi-fi networks that you encounter as you travel. It’s a nice feature if you’re at home or at your regular workplace, but never a good idea when you’re travelling. Always change this setting before you fly out.
Whenever you visit a tourist attraction or attend an event, it’s tempting to share your location. Everybody checks in somewhere, anyway. Even if you don’t mean to share your location, many social media apps attach it when you post an image or video.
However, sharing your location can alert criminals to the fact that you’re not home or in your hotel, which means that you’re leaving your loved ones, personal belongings, or property at risk. Turn this feature off for all your apps and disable your GPS whenever possible.
Whether you’re at a tourist trap or participating in an event, do not disclose your location to anyone except those who really need to know it, like your boss or your family.
Gone are the days when all a computer virus can do is go into your hard drive and play a creepy video while deleting everything in your hard drive. Now, viruses have adapted to mobile technology. They delete your data, mine your computer for sensitive personal information, then move on to the next device.
While not opening email and messages from suspicious senders is one way to avoid viruses, you can still unwittingly infect your devices when you download something or access a public network (another reason you should only connect to a network you trust!). Installing a trusted anti-virus solution will keep your devices and data secure while you travel.
Updating your devices’ operating systems is a time-consuming exercise, but it’s something that you should not put off doing for too long. OS updates usually contain patches that protect your device from security threats, such as gaps in the code that let cyber attackers sneak into your network.
In the same way, you should also update your apps, especially those you use to access personal and financial data. Not updating your apps can result in identity theft, blackmail, and fraud, especially if your apps have existing security gaps.
You should also remove apps that you no longer use and retain only those apps that you use frequently. Aside from making your phone run faster and saving battery life, cleaning up your phone can help you avoid cyber attacks that take advantage of connections opened by unneeded apps.
Mobile technology has evolved to a point where you cannot avoid using it. We are increasingly getting dependent on mobile devices for almost everything we need, from sharing photos with amusing captions to buying travel tickets to completing high-value transactions. Unfortunately, cybersecurity threats have also taken on new forms.
Cyber attacks can hit you any time, especially if you’re travelling in an unfamiliar location. Changing your personal habits and fixing a few settings in your devices will help you stave off these attacks and keep your data and devices safe.