When you think of the most valuable thing you could lose while traveling, what comes to mind? Your suitcase, wallet, passport? What comes to my mind is my mobile device. Especially while traveling abroad, my mobile device is my lifeline and is essentially the remote control to my digital life.
What many international travelers do not realize is that their devices are often more vulnerable when taking a long-distance trip. Because they store and transmit our personal information – from website logins to banking information – these devices are much more valuable than the contents of your wallet or suitcase. Especially while you’re abroad and not used to your surroundings, pickpockets and cybercriminals can prey on your vulnerability to steal or infect your devices. Luckily, there are cybersecurity precautions you can take before, during and after international travel to ensure your information stays safe.
First and foremost, you have to get your device security in order before you hit the skies or hit the road. Now is the time to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to protecting your information. The best thing to do would be to leave your devices at home where you know they will be safe. However, that’s unrealistic for most people, since we’re tethered to our mobile gadgets. So at the very least, before you head on your trip, make sure to:
- Clean up your device. Clear your browser history and delete cookies.
- Consider deleting apps that you don’t use altogether to avoid unnecessary vulnerability.
- Encrypt any personal data to ensure that information stays protected. Back up any files to an external hard drive or desktop if your encryption fails.
Whether you’re home or abroad, it’s important to always be vigilant and aware of your surroundings, both online and in-person. While device theft is uncontrollable, you can control how and where you use your devices. When you’re traveling internationally, public, free Wi-Fi is sometimes the only option for service. Unfortunately, it can be exploited by cybercriminals as a gateway to your devices. By spoofing legitimate Wi-Fi networks, these nefarious folks could gain access to sensitive data and private accounts and potentially request money for the return of your information, making public Wi-Fi the biggest threat to your cybersecurity. To avoid being compromised, be sure to:
- Mitigate risk and avoid making online purchases or accessing bank accounts while using public Wi-Fi.
- Use your smartphone to create a personal hotspot, if you are in dire need of an internet connection.
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt any data you may receive while on your trip.
Arriving home after travel is an already exhaustive experience – don’t exhaust your device by bringing any malware back with you. Remember that if you connected to local networks abroad, your mobile devices may have been susceptible to malware. So, in order to help your device be ready for its return back home, follow these tips:
- Update your software. By updating your apps when prompted, you’ll ensure you have the latest patch and avoid any vulnerabilities that may have surfaced while you were away.
- Delete travel apps you needed for your trip but no longer use. These can store personal information that can be accessed if they are not regularly used or updated.
- Reset your passwords, pins and other credentials you may have used while abroad, regardless if you think you were compromised or not. Changing them will render the stolen credentials useless.