Being – and staying – connected through technology has become so integral to our lives that many of us don’t stop to consider the risks that can come from being so tech-reliant. Especially when traveling, it’s important to be smart with your social media accounts and digital devices. Strangers or social hackers connected to your social media network may monitor your posts, and your personal information might be easily available to opportunistic individuals. Carrying mobile devices to foreign countries can leave individuals exposed to certain safety and security issues while there, including crimes that can range from petty theft to corporate espionage or identity theft. While using password protection on mobile devices and not clicking suspicious links are common tips, the concerns facing travelers and their sensitive information have only increased. Being aware of the specific cyber threats and following some best practices before, during and after your trip can help mitigate these risks and protect your sensitive information.
Prepare Digital Devices Before Traveling
- Back up the devices and then wipe them clean of all sensitive and proprietary information. Remove or limit banking information, sensitive data, personal photographs or compromising information—if any intellectual property is stolen during the trip, the damage will be kept to a minimum.
- Research the laws governing your destination, since in some places, authorities can confiscate and look at your digital data and even take action based on what they find. This is especially pertinent if someone posts something about politics or the government of a country even on personal social media while in-country.
- Make sure your anti-virus and any other malware protections are up-to-date.
- Ask family, friends and colleagues to respect your privacy and security by refraining from posting information to social media about your itinerary and travels.
- Check with your service provider to ensure that cellular coverage is possible in your intended destination and consider paying for a temporary international cellular data plan, if available, to help reduce the need to connect to Wi-Fi networks in country.
- Consider buying or renting a personal hot spot; this device grants a secure, private internet connection to its owner.
- Don’t forget to set up ‘Find My Phone’ services on your mobile devices in the event you need to track (or erase) a lost or stolen device during your travels.
- Check the warranty plans with your service provider in case your device is damaged.
Practice Digital and Social Media Safety During Travel
- General Internet Safety Tips
- In most countries, travelers should not have an expectation of privacy in internet cafés, airplanes, offices, or other public spaces. All information sent electronically can potentially be intercepted, especially over wireless communications.
- Try to avoid using public and unsecured Wi-Fi networks, where your information is vulnerable to hacking. If you’re relying on free Wi-Fi to get around an unfamiliar place, do a little pre-outing prep: download maps while you’re on a secure Wi-Fi network, for example at your hotel, to use while you’re out and about during the day.
- If using a public or insecure Wi-Fi network or computer becomes necessary during your trip, avoid logging into any personal or financial accounts.
- While in country, avoid banking/shopping online, or any other activity that requires personal identification or financial information.
- Minimize use of email to send sensitive company or personal information to protect your data.
- Social Media Safety Tips
- Avoid oversharing your location real-time. While you’re at it, turn off your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi auto-connect options just in case.
- Do not post photos of your boarding pass or travel documents to social media sites – you’d be amazed at how much information they contain. From a single boarding pass, identity thieves could potentially access all kinds of data, including names, phone numbers, frequent flyer account numbers and more.
- Be aware of social media posts, browser history and downloaded apps, as some destinations have stringent regulations on acceptable content.
- Tips for Physical Devices
- Smartphones are a prime target for petty theft while traveling—they’re small, easy to conceal and easy to pluck out of your hand or back pocket. If you need to use your phone in public, try to stand still with your back to a wall or window, since looking down at your phone and walking at the same time might limit your situational awareness.
- While not exactly a mobile device, your wallet is susceptible to high-tech theft in the form of radio-frequency identification (RFID) skimming—a scanner that steals credit card information from your wallet/pocket. Keep your finances safe by using an RFID-blocking wallet or purse. Keep your phones, laptops and other mobile devices secure at all times— keep phones in the front pocket of your pants and laptops in a hotel safe when not in use to minimize theft. Stowing items in your luggage, especially unattended luggage, will leave your personal property vulnerable to theft.
If your mobile device is stolen, report it immediately to the local embassy or consulate and make sure to use software to remotely lock down/wipe your device.