In today’s digital age, keeping your data private and secure is a prime concern for many people. When you’re traveling, your data can become more vulnerable to theft, hackers, and other prying eyes. Whether you’re headed on a family vacation or on a business trip, it’s worth taking extra precautions while away from home. Start with these 14 tips to keep your data safe while you travel.
Research International Laws
If you’re traveling abroad, it’s important that you understand local laws. Depending on where you travel, you may be asked to provide access to your accounts and device when entering a new country. Some governments monitor Internet activity and can do it all without your consent. Be sure you know what to expect when traveling to a new country so that you don’t accidentally expose sensitive data you thought was safe.
Keep Sensitive Data at Home
If you can go without dragging sensitive information along with you while you travel, do it. This could be as simple as leaving flashdrives you don’t need at home. It could also mean disabling the sync settings on your cloud accounts and deleting any locally stored files before you head out on a trip. You should still be able to access and make edits on your cloud-based copies while you travel, but by not having a copy stored locally on your phone or computer, it makes that data less vulnerable to theft.
Consider Using a Burner Device
In some cases, you may want to leave your devices at home entirely. If you decide to do this but still need a way to stay in touch, consider investing instead in a burner phone or laptop. This would be a lower-end pre-paid device that’s used for accessing the Internet or making phone calls. However, you wouldn’t store private information on it. That way, you have less to worry about if your device is searched, lost, or stolen. That said, keep in mind that entering passwords on your burner device can still leave you vulnerable, especially over public Wi-Fi, so you’ll want to be careful about how you use it.
Keep Your Device Up To Date
If you don’t want to go the burner phone route and plan to bring your everyday devices with you, make sure that your device is up to date before you leave for your trip. One way hackers get ahold of your data is through vulnerabilities in your operating system and apps. Updating all these software programs patches these holes and makes it harder for hackers to get ahold of your data while you’re traveling.
Avoid Public Computers
If you’ve left your devices at home to protect your data, it might be tempting to log into your social media accounts or email from a public computer, such as one that’s available in your hotel’s business center. However, you can never know if that computer is safe or if there’s malware or viruses installed on it that could leave you vulnerable. Some low-risk activities should be safe over public computers, such as using them to search for places to eat or for local attractions. However, you should never log into your email, bank, social media, or other accounts from public computers as you never know who might be able to steal your password.
Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi
In addition to public computers, public Wi-Fi poses a huge threat when traveling. Travelers are eager to connect to free networks, but you may not realize the risks they pose. This is because public Wi-Fi is typically unencrypted, which means that even a novice hacker could connect to the network and easily see what data you’re passing through it.
If you have to use public Wi-Fi, avoid sending any sensitive data over the network, such as entering passwords or sending private emails. Never access your financial information while connected to a public network. Your best option is to either use your cellular network instead or use a VPN.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) adds an extra layer of security to your Internet browsing while you travel. It’s especially useful if you’re connecting to public Wi-Fi in coffee shops, airports, and hotels. A VPN funnels your data to their servers and encrypts it first. That way, even if hackers orchestrating an attack over public Wi-Fi manage to get ahold of your data, they can’t see what you’re up to without cracking the encryption.
As an added bonus, a VPN service can help you get around geographical content barriers when traveling abroad by masking your IP address. For example, if you can’t access your video streaming service outside of the country, a VPN will connect you to a US-based server so that it looks like your traffic is coming from a US city, therefore unlocking your content for you. TheBestVPN.com recommends using either PIA or Avast.
Disable Wireless Signals
Even if you take the abovementioned precautions to protect yourself over public Wi-Fi, it’s best to disable wireless signals when you aren’t using them. Keeping your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal on can give hackers an easy route into your device. Turn these signals off when they’re not needed.
Use Your Hotel Safe
If you’re leaving your laptop behind for the day, don’t overestimate how safe it is sitting on your desk in your hotel room. The hotel staff still has access to your room, and they’ll likely enter it to clean while you’re gone. You don’t want any sensitive data sitting out when you don’t know who you can trust. That’s why it’s always a good idea to use your hotel room safe if you have a chance to reduce your risk of falling victim to thieves and cybercriminals.
Only Use Bank ATMs
When we talk about data security, we’re not just talking about securing your phone and laptop. Your bank information is sensitive data that becomes vulnerable to attack when you’re traveling. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid ATMs found in your hotel lobby or convenience stores. These ATMs are more likely to be hacked with card readers that steal your information when you access the ATM. Bank ATMs, on the other hand, are more frequently maintained and pose less risk.
Monitor Your Sensitive Accounts
Since traveling puts your data at risk, it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for fraudulent activity so you can catch it and resolve the situation as soon as it happens. That means keeping an eye on your credit card accounts and other financial information.
Here’s the catch: Accessing these accounts while traveling isn’t necessarily a smart idea. You may be fine monitoring your accounts over your cellular connection, but you won’t want to be logging into your bank accounts over public Wi-Fi or on public computers.
Instead, talk to your financial institutions before you leave. Let them know where you’ll be traveling and how long you’ll be gone, and make sure you have fraud alerts set up. You might also entrust data monitoring to someone back home, such as a spouse, who can keep an eye on your financial information from the safety of your home’s secure Internet connection.
Prepare for Lost or Stolen Devices
When worrying about device security while traveling, it’s easy to focus on public Wi-Fi and potential hacking threats, but you’ll want to prepare yourself if your device is lost or stolen, too. That starts with locking your device so that if someone finds it, they’ll have a harder time accessing your files.
Also be sure that you have an app installed that can help you locate a lost device or wipe the memory completely. For example, Android phones have the default Find My Device feature on phones registered to a Google account. If your device has been lost or stolen, you’ll be able to log into your Google account from another computer and see your device’s current location; make it ring, even if it’s on silent; add a message to the front of the screen in case it’s found; or reset the device completely so that thieves can’t access your data.
Don’t Share Your Current Location
When traveling, it’s easy to worry about securing the data you’ve brought along with you. However, travelers tend to forget about the data they’ve left behind at home. Avoid broadcasting your location to everyone via social media while you’re away. If people know you’re out of town, it makes your home a prime target for theft.
Change Your Passwords
As an extra precaution, it’s a good idea to change your passwords when you arrive back home. That way, if anyone got ahold of your passwords while you were traveling, they’d no longer be able to access your accounts. If you’re traveling for long, perhaps consider changing your passwords several times while you’re away from home.
You shouldn’t have to stress about your data security while traveling. However, taking a few precautions with the abovementioned tips can help prevent data theft and help you travel with peace of mind.
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