Protecting your devices when traveling

Even the most privacy-conscious among us encounter various security threats when travelling. Unless your laptop is inside a Zero Halliburton briefcase handcuffed to your wrist, it’s difficult to keep your valuables within eyesight at all times. The good news is that protecting your devices on the road is possible by taking these steps.

Protecting your devices on the road

  • Set up multi-factor authentication for logging into devices and accounts. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a way of confirming your identity using two or more criteria – knowledge (something only you know, like a password or PIN code), possession (something belonging to you, such as your mobile phone), and inherence (something only you are). The most common type of MFA is two-factor authentication, or 2FA. Popular web services like Facebook and bitcoin exchange Coinbase suggest that users set up 2FA. They generally require a user to confirm their identity with a code.  The application then sends an SMS to the mobile of the user. Additionally, third party authentication apps such as Google Authenticator can provide the same function, with the added benefit of not requiring mobile signal to use.
  • Use a thumb drive operating system. Operating systems optimized for security, such as Tails, can be stored on a USB stick and operated on any PC. While there are still further precautions to keep in mind, this is a solution used by even the most vulnerable targets for surveillance, like NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
  • Get a (paid) VPN service. While there are myriad free offerings, if you’re serious about having a secure connection, a paid VPN (virtual private network) is a smart investment. A good VPN will encrypt and protect your data from malicious actors who could access your device through an unsecured or compromised WiFi network.
  • Get a burner phone. Beyond using a cheap prepaid ‘dumb’ phone as a burner, it is increasingly popular to use your existing smartphone as a burner through a third-party app. Lifehacker has a helpful list of use cases for a burner phone, as well as some app suggestions like Burner or Hushed.

General advice

As mentioned earlier on our blog, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind, such as being wary of public WiFi networks, encrypting and backing up your files.

  • Update your anti-virus and anti-malware software. Despite the increasing prevalence of high-profile ransomware attacks (like 2017’s WannaCry or Petya), many users are still very lax when it comes to updating anti-virus software.  Despite Apple’s reputation for being less prone to viruses and malware, it’s not a bad idea to look into the free app Malwarebytes. For comparisons of different solutions, check out AV Test’s rankings.

Physical device security

There are also several low-tech steps you can take to protect your devices when out in public:

  • Use a privacy screen overlaid on your phone or laptop screen. Firms like 3M and Gadget Guard offer an adhesive plastic film that covers your device’s screen to keep its contents away from the prying eyes of whoever is sitting next to you on the train.
  • Cover your laptop’s camera. There are many documented cases of laptop cameras being hijacked by hackers. Everyone from former FBI Director James Comey to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have taken this extremely low-tech, yet effective security measure.

As you can see, there are a number of measures you can take to secure your devices when traveling. The next blog will cover the idiosyncrasies of entering the United States, and the security precautions you can take when protecting your data and devices.

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