16 Things You Must Do Before Traveling If You Want to Stay Cyber-Secure
Here are sixteen things that you should do before traveling in order to dramatically improve yours odds of avoiding a cyber-catastrophe.
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Criminals have been targeting travelers for as long as there have been people and roads. The modern world is no different, and, even in locations in which a person might feel physically secure, hackers and cyber-crooks might still be launching full scale attacks. As such, here are sixteen things that you should do before traveling in order to dramatically improve yours odds of avoiding a cyber-catastrophe.
1. Bring only the electronic devices that you need for the trip
Any devices that have information on them that you wouldn't want leaking should not be brought with you unless needed. Lock them up in a safe place at home. The same goes for physical credit cards, ID cards, and like - bring what you need, and not more: if your wallet or baggage is lost or stolen you want the smallest amount of headache possible.
2. Obtain a "throwaway" or "high risk zone" device
If you are traveling to a high risk zone for hacking - for example, China - get a "throwaway" device or a device dedicated to use in the risky zone which you do not turn on outside of that zone. Businesses should provide such devices for traveling executives and others who handle sensitive business information. After travel, the devices should be wiped, reset to their factory settings, and then re-imaged with their corporate configurations and software. Of course, do not turn on any of your normal devices in the high risk zone - and, even better, don't bring them along for the trip in the first place.
3. Backup all of your data before leaving
4. Turn off WiFi and Bluetooth
Turn off WiFi and Bluetooth on all electronic devices traveling with you before you leave. And, whenever possible and practical, keep them off for the duration of the trip.
5. Notify your credit card company and bank where and when you are traveling
By informing the financial institutions with which you do business, you not only reduce the odds of payments being denied when you try to shop in some far-away place, but also improve their chances of preventing fraudulent charges or payments made by someone local to your home who has stolen your card or account information and attempts to commit fraud while you are en route or away.
6. Notify friends, relatives, and/or coworkers
Likewise, whenever possible, notify family members, friends, and co-workers of your plans - telling them reduces the likelihood that they will fall prey to social engineers and virtual kidnappers.
7. Turn on your mobile phone's lock feature
You should be using it all the time, but, it is even more important than usual to secure your phone when traveling. I prefer using a password rather than fingerprints or other biometrics for reasons discussed in this article and others.
8. Enable remote wipe (and remote lock if it exists) for all of your mobile devices
If a computer, tablet, or phone is lost or stolen, you don't want the data on it - or accessible elsewhere from it - stolen and misused.
You should always be storing sensitive data in an encrypted format, but encryption is even more essential when it comes to devices with which you are traveling; the odds of a device being lost or stolen are obviously higher when you are in unfamiliar places and deviating from your normal schedule and routine than when the devices are sitting in your home or office. Encryption is built in to many versions of Windows, and there are plenty of free encryption tools for other platforms available as well. Also, keep in mind that if you have doubts as to whether something is sensitive enough to warrant encryption, you should probably err on the side of caution and encrypt.
10. Make sure that your name and contact information are visible on your mobile devices
To help anyone who finds your devices return them to you, write your contact details on the outside of the devices or include the information on the devices' lock screens. Do not include your home address - you don't want anyone who finds or steals one of your devices to know that you are not home. Also, don't write your smartphone's phone number on the outside of the phone - besides providing a poor way of contacting you if the device to which it corresponds is stolen, you'd be making life easier for a thief who does not know how to unlock your phone; using an email address and/or an easily redirected Google voice number or the like is a better idea.
11. Bring your own power sources
Pack your own charger and sufficient battery packs for when you will not be able to plug in. You don't want to be borrowing these types of items; various power cables and power banks have been found to contain chips that install malware onto devices to which they are attached.
12. Make sure that you have up-to-date security software
You need security software (anti-malware, personal firewall, anti-spam, etc.) on every computer, tablet, or smartphone with which you are traveling. Also make sure that all patches for the devices' operating systems and software are up to date.
13. Make sure you have all the hardware and software that you will need during your trip
This is especially true if you are traveling to a foreign country - for both technical and security reasons it is best not to install items purchased overseas unless you have sufficient expertise to ascertain that they are safe and fully-compatible. Also make sure that you have enough USB devices and media (such as DVD disks - yes, some people still use them) for whatever you need to accomplish during the trip. If you will need to transfer files to other people using USB drives, pack "throw away" drives that you will never place back into your computer after placing them into other peoples' computers.
14. Prepare for safe social media usage
Turn off location tracking and any automatic check-in features running on your social media accounts. Do not post that you will be traveling. If you are using Waze or the like, make sure that you are not sharing "too much information" about your travel with outside parties - better yet, stay "anonymous" on such applications.
15. Plan your data access in advance
Check that you have enough data on your cellular plan (and increase it if needed), or if you plan to use WiFi on the trip (which is true for most of us when we travel), learn how to do so safely before you leave on your trip, and prepare accordingly. A personal hotspot from your cellular provider is typically more secure than most WiFi, but it does cost money.
16. Prepare your baggage to keep your data safe
Make sure all of your equipment containing sensitive information fits in your carry on bag. Do not put computers or the like into suitcases that you will check as baggage.