Your safety, and that of your vital digital information, can be compromised when you travel. It is important to understand the risks and then learn how to protect yourself when you’re in a foreign country with unknown threats. The right “digital diligence” done in advance can save you from major headaches, including compromised private data, the theft of personal information, and even stolen identities.
Global Rescue Security and Intelligence personnel recommend that travelers take these precautions to help protect their personal information:
- While traveling in a foreign country, it is generally safe to assume that government organizations, criminals, or both could be targeting your private information and monitoring your online behavior. While this may not always be the case, it will help establish a security-conscious mindset and make you more aware of what you’re doing on your phone or your computer. It is rare that authorities will confront a traveler regarding their online behavior, but you should still be concerned with protecting your privacy and preventing the compromise of any sensitive information, including personal identity, bank account information, family relationships, etc.
- Be aware of the political climate in your destination country. Conditions can range widely in terms of privacy of electronic communication. In some countries, comments made on social media can result in fines or arrests, or may result in additional questioning or scrutiny during customs screening. It is always safer to avoid making any political, social, religious, or other controversial comments online while traveling, and in some cases, even before travel.
- Understand your unique risk profile. For instance, if you are a journalist traveling to an illiberal country to report on a controversial topic, you may be more susceptible to attempts at hacking or monitoring and may need to take more precautions, whereas if you are a tourist going to a Western or democratic country, the risks will be significantly less.
- Maintain a low electronic footprint while traveling. Limit or avoid social media activity while in country, which can reveal personal information, location, and other sensitive information. Avoid sharing itinerary information. Maintain private settings on all profiles. Ensure any location tracking mechanisms on your phone are disabled.
- To the greatest extent possible, maintain positive control over all electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) by keeping them with you at all times. If this is not practical, use a safe in the hotel room to store electronic devices while not in the room. Password protect all electronic devices. Utilize a different password for each. Consider storing all work files in an encrypted container located on a removable storage device that is secured when not in use, or store data on the cloud rather than on your device.
- Utilize a hardline internet connection whenever possible. Wi-Fi connections are easily monitored or hacked by third parties. Use of a virtual private network (VPN) can also reduce this threat when using Wi-Fi.
- Do not send any emails while overseas on any private or personal issues that can wait until you are home. Alert friends and family of your trip before you leave and make sure they do not send you any sensitive or private information while you are traveling.
- Never plug an unknown USB flash drive into your computer or other device. Do not charge a phone or other device with a USB unless it is connected directly to an electric outlet. Consider an external battery charger so you do not have to connect your device to outlets.
- Ensure the Bluetooth and wireless functions on all devices are turned off when not in use. Do not connect to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks, including at airports, train stations, and other public areas. If wireless connectivity is essential, utilize a virtual private network (VPN) and do not conduct sensitive business, such as online banking. Consider utilizing a “clean” device for typing purposes that never touches the internet. Erase all unneeded documents and personal photos from devices before travel.
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