Our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and the like have become so ingrained in our everyday lives that we take them everywhere with us—even at the risk of cyber threats when traveling.
How could we resist? Having a personal device on hand makes it a breeze to book hotels, nab last-minute flights, read up on the best cafes and restaurants, store tickets and boarding passes, organize our itineraries, and find our way around a new city with Google Maps, among many, many other things. I’d even go so far as to say that having your Android or iPhone on hand is necessary for traveling at this point!
It should come as no surprise, then, that as we grow ever more reliant on our electronics while abroad, they’ve become ever more attractive to criminals, with data theft, the spread of malware, identity theft, and other deadly cyber attacks becoming increasingly prevalent during trips abroad.
Don’t become one of the many victims. Learn how to properly safeguard both your device and your precious personal data by reading BestVPN’s guide to cyber threats while traveling below.
Travel Safety Tips for Your Data
Use a VPN
If you plan to do any sensitive browsing—such as banking, checking emails, or accessing your company’s database—while abroad, using a VPN to do so is vital. You can’t ever be completely sure that the connection you’re using is secure when in a foreign country, so it’s better to give any private information you’re communicating over the Internet the extra layer of protection that a VPN provides.
If you haven’t signed up for a VPN service already, you can find the best one to suit your needs using our VPN comparison tool.
Stay Away from Wi-Fi Hotspots
Wi-Fi hotspots are all the rage these days, and while they’re undeniably convenient, they can also be very dangerous. Cyber criminals are known for setting up fake hotspots (for example, setting up one called ‘Free Airport Wi-Fi’ at an airport) that they can then use to access unsuspecting people’s devices when they connect to them.
If you do have to use public Wi-Fi, be aware that you don’t know who’s watching and take all the necessary precautions. Only connect to legitimate hotspots, do not conduct any sensitive activities such as online shopping or banking, and try to limit your web browsing to sites with https://-protected addresses. You can beef up your security even more by only accessing public Wi-Fi via a VPN.
Bluetooth is a handy function—it allows the free-flow of data between two devices once connected—but it can also be hazardous since the data exchange requires little to no user confirmation once the connection between devices is made.
Be extremely cautious when allowing other users or applications to connect to your electronics via Bluetooth. Also, carefully monitor your network settings to make sure automatic connection is disabled. If it’s not, other Bluetooth networks could connect to your device and all the data therein without having to ask for authorization.
Avoid Public and Shared Computers
Internet cafes are legendarily dodgy, so it should come as no surprise that using them is dangerous for your data. It’s scary how easy it is for cybercriminals to install Keylogger and other sorts of malicious software that capture any information that is entered on public computers. As such, one should always assume that any personal data they enter—such as email addresses, usernames, and passwords—has a strong chance of being seen and stolen by an unauthorized third party.
This string of logic does not only apply to internet cafes—the same goes for any other sort of shared computer, such as those found in a hotel lobby or public library.
All this said, what if you’re in a bind and have no choice but to use a public computer in a foreign country? Prepare for the worst by keeping a secure private browser on hand, such as the SurfEasy USB stick. While it won’t protect you from every bit of malware out there, it’ll make any online surfing you do on a shared computer a heck of a lot more secure than it would’ve been without.
Encrypt Your Data
Encryption is an excellent way to protect your data from theft, interception, and other cyber threats, and could not be easier to implement. File and email encryption software such as VeraCrypt are widely available for purchase and when installed will alter your data to become unreadable and irretrievable without a decryption key (usually a password). It makes sending secure emails and safeguarding the contents of your hard drive a breeze, even if you’re far away from home.
One thing to keep in mind: Airports in some countries may require you to decrypt your data when going through security. As such, keep your decryption key on hand to prevent this from becoming a bother.
Password Protect Your Electronics
An easy way to protect your personal devices from cyber threats is by giving each one a strong password. Make each one different and consider enabling the feature that wipes out the contents of device’s hard drive if the password is entered incorrectly 5, 10, or however many times.
While you’re somewhat limited when it comes to the type and difficulty of passwords that you can set on your smartphone, we highly encourage you take advantage of the ability to set complex passwords on tablets and computers. You can either put together a password that consists of capitals, lowercase, numbers, and symbols on your own, or generate one using a password manager such as KeePass.
Personalize Your Devices
This tip may seem a little lame, but it could also end up being a huge lifesaver if you lose your computer, tablet, or smartphone while traipsing around a foreign country. Keep your name visible and accessible on some part of your device—either by setting it as your screen saver or engraving it somewhere—so that if found, it can be easily returned to you.
Update Your Antivirus Software
We know, we know—software updates are tedious and annoying and best avoided for as long as possible. That said, antivirus programs are at their most effective when centrally managed and updated regularly. As such, it is crucial that you update your antivirus software (or install some if you don’t have any yet!) before you leave for your vacation or business trip to help ward off cyber threats.
Read Up on Local Digital Laws and Regulations
When you visit a different country, you are subject to the laws they have that govern digital information, encrypted data, and intellectual property. What may be legal in your country may be illegal in another, and could result in you getting into trouble and potentially losing your data. As such, you should never bring data into a foreign place that you’re not prepared to lose, and should err on the side of caution when it comes to things such as risqué content, downloaded music, torrented movies, and the such.
As laws differ depending on where you’re going, the best way to go about this issue is by contacting your destination country’s embassy in your home country for more information. Alternatively, you can also find a lot of up-to-date information online. BestVPN has dedicated country pages which touch on the subject and can be accessed via the map on our homepage.
Backup Your Data
Backing up the data on your smartphone, laptop, and any other electronic devices that you own is the most important preventative measure that you can take before going abroad.
If your device is broken or stolen while in a foreign country, you’ll be out the cost of the device, sure, but at least you can rest easy knowing that the data that was on it—arguably the far more valuable part—is safely backed up in the Cloud or on an external hard drive back home.
You can read up on the most popular backup providers for travelers at our sister site BestBackups.
Keep Your Devices in Sight
Never leave any of your devices—including USBs, external hard drives, and anything else that you plug into your computer—unattended. The most obvious reason for doing this is so that they don’t get stolen, but an additional risk is their properties being compromised. A cyber criminal could easily swipe your device, load it with malware such as Keylogger, and place it back on the table or in the hotel room without you being any the wiser.
Get a Loaner Device
If the purpose of your trip is business, inquire with your company if they can give you a loaner device. Many companies have electronic devices on hand that are specifically for travel purposes so as to prevent sensitive information being compromised when one of their employees goes abroad.
Final Thoughts on Cyber Threats While Traveling
If you take any or all of your electronics with you when you go abroad, you’ll always be running the risk of having your data—or the devices themselves—stolen by international ne’er-do-wells. That said, if you follow our helpful tips for avoiding cyber threats while traveling, you’ll drastically lower the chances of disaster striking, leaving you to enjoy your much-deserved holiday worry-free!