Whether travelling abroad for business or leisure, there are lots of irreplaceable benefits that being overseas can bring. It’s fair to say that travelling can be one of the greatest pleasures of life.
That said, travelling abroad can also present huge risks to your data if you’re not careful. In fact, it’s increasingly common to be hacked while en route to your destination. If you’re going abroad with a mobile phone, laptop or tablet, among other digital equipment, you could fall victim to a cyber attack without proper protection in place.
Securing your data is incredibly important anyway, but you’ll need to take additional care while taking an extended vacation abroad or working overseas. So before you set off on your travels, be aware of the potential cyber risks you could face, and how to ensure your data remains secure and uncompromised while you’re away.
Data security risks while travelling
Every year the volume, capacity and severity of cybercrimes continue to rise. Unsurprisingly, many companies are concerned about the security of sensitive information when an employee travels abroad. It’s essential to ensure there is an appropriate detection and response strategy enforced.
Given the wide variety of threats, any corporate or solo traveller must be hyper-vigilant and cautious of the potential security risks that exist.
- Public WiFi networks – Hackers can easily gain access to devices through public WiFi networks; these can put any sensitive data stored on your devices at risk (such as emails, passwords, documents and bank details).
- Insecure or out-of-date public computers – Cybercrimes and data breaches often happen when using a public computer that is often unsecured and using outdated software.
- Discoverable devices – Malware and tracking devices can be transferred to computers or mobile phones via Bluetooth and WiFi which can put travellers’ safety at risk and expose them to further hacking and cyber attacks.
- Device storage or charging stations – Data breaches can often happen in premises that appear to be public device charging and storage stations. These stations are often fake and crawling with cybercrime.
- Theft – Travellers are easy targets for opportunistic thieves, pickpockets and burglars. It should go without saying, but staying in unsecured accommodation and not properly securing equipment can put travellers at increased risk of theft.
12 tips to protect your data while travelling
Avoid public computers and WiFi networks
As said above, public computers are a huge venus flytrap when it comes to your private personal and business data. You simply do not know exactly what’s been installed on these public machines. Furthermore, unsecured, free and public WiFi is a red flag; cybercriminals on that network may be eavesdropping on activity and trying to skim your data.
The best advice is to just avoid them altogether if possible. If you fear you may be forced into using open and unlocked WiFi, a private WiFi adapter can be a good workaround. Or, alternatively…
Use a VPN
A VPN (virtual private network) helps strengthen your security while abroad. Setting up a VPN through an app or browser creates an encrypted connection between your device and your company’s secure network. The VPN encrypts and funnels your data through a server located elsewhere and masks your location while doing so.
VPNs are delivered as a service by providers (such as ExpressVPN), so come with monthly fees, which are usually influenced by the number of devices required. However, there are also free trial VPN options for iPhone and Android users that you can check out.
Turn Bluetooth and WiFi auto-connect off
It might be tempting to leave auto-connect options for WiFi and Bluetooth on for convenience, but it’s vital to make sure this is off. You should avoid automatically connecting to any network that’s available due to its lack of security.
As mentioned above, hackers can also compromise your device and its stored information through Bluetooth, so turn this off and only use it when you need to.
Always use strong passwords, PINs and two-factor authentication (TFA)
Always make sure your devices are protected with a strong and complex password or PIN combination. Also, enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication on your devices if you can. On top of your password protection, restrict access to your devices and files without proper credentials such as email or biometric verification or push notifications on alternative devices.
Alter your passwords
As opposed to using the same password for multiple logins, consider having unique ones for each device or profile that you need a username and password combination for. One of the most effective and manageable workarounds is to use a password manager tool like LastPass or BitWarden to generate super-strong passwords for all your various services that you use online. You can easily change these from time to time to another strong password combination. The only password you’ll need to remember is the one you use to access the manager tool itself (the master password).
Be mindful of geotagging
While it’s tempting to share details of your exotic locations on social media profiles, this can have harsh consequences. Flaunting your vacation or business trip publicly can alert criminals to the fact that your home is unoccupied. Criminals often syphon through social media to find easier targets; after all, you may not notice suspicious activity while you’re away. By tweaking your privacy settings, you can ensure your profile is not public or easily accessible.
Invest in robust, reliable antivirus software
It goes without saying that your computer should have antivirus software installed, ideally one with built-in firewalls and internet security protection like AVG. While free antivirus programmes are good as a base layer of protection, you can get far more sophisticated protection tools by upgrading to paid memberships, which are usually reasonably priced.
Update devices and software regularly
When you’re prompted to install security patches and updates for software, you shouldn’t ignore these. These updates and patches are designed to improve the security and functionality of your software and the hardware it’s on. Failing to regularly update can expose you to an increased risk of a hack, as the app won’t have the most sophisticated protection available.
Enable encryption on laptops (if relevant)
Disk encryption software involves locking any sensitive data behind additional factors. Therefore, should that data somehow fall into the wrong hands, it’s almost impossible to decipher for someone to wiggle their way in due to the masked data. TechRadar recently highlighted some highly recommended encryption software tools.
Alternatively, another safe option is to avoid storing sensitive data on a laptop and instead, access it via secure cloud access or via an external drive.
Back up your data
Speaking of data, backing up your data onto an external USB, HDD or SSD drive (or via a cloud storage solution) would free up crucial space but also minimise the risk of losing that data should your device be stolen or misplaced. Creating multiple backups gives you full peace of mind that you can retrieve everything that’s stored should something go wrong.
Install reputable device tracking and remote wiping software
Smartphones come with remote wiping functions, allowing you to erase everything on your device remotely. So should your phone be stolen or lost, you can trigger the device to erase everything on there. We’ve also highlighted five precautions to take if your phone is lost or stolen while abroad.
Android and iOS devices are also trackable with device management software, which allows you to remotely locate, lock or ring your devices. If you’ve been the victim of a theft, you can provide the tracking information to the police.
Keep hold of your devices
Always keep your expensive, valuable and important devices with you all the time. If you’re in rural accommodation, the security of public lockers and storage might not be up to scratch, so the best practice is to keep hold of your phone and laptop, even if you’re not using them. It’s easy to overlook security for convenience at times, but it’s vital to not rest on your laurels.
By adopting the strategies above, you can drastically reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a cyber attack, saving yourself significant hassle, stress and money in the long run. Your trip should be memorable and positive, so taking a few additional steps to protect your data is well worth doing to make that possible.