Tech Tips for Travelers

Mar 12, 2015 - 9:00 PM

Packing a laptop, tablet or smartphone? Here’s how to safeguard them—and their contents.

With Internet data breaches increasingly common, “digital security” has become an oxymoron. And as soon as you unplug from your personal network and hit the road, you face exacerbated risks. You can, however, adopt practices that substantially reduce the dangers. 

Prior to leaving home, back up your data to a desktop computer or external hard drive. And consider whether you really must bring all your gadgets with you. You might be better off, for example, traveling with an inexpensive tablet instead of your laptop and using a prepaid “throwaway” cell phone. 

Make sure that whatever you do bring has been updated with the latest security software. Activate apps that allow you to track the location of devices and to wipe their data remotely if necessary, such as Apple’s free Find My iPhone. Keep computers and phones with you—don’t assume they’ll be safe in hotel rooms—and turn them completely off (rather than switching to “sleep” mode) when you’re not using them. Avoid tapping into public Wi-Fi as much as possible. And remember: in some countries, the government may be monitoring your online activity.

Protect all of your devices with passwords, and assign a different password for every account you hold. Each should be as long and random as possible. Of course, no one can remember dozens or hundreds of complex passwords, which is why you need an app like 1Password, which can store them all; you need to remember only the password for the app, which can automatically enter all the others. Activate password masking on your device, in case anyone is looking over your shoulder when you’re logging into your accounts. And when you return from an international trip, consider changing any passwords that you have used while abroad.

Treat your devices as you would any valuables. Never pack them inside checked baggage and keep a record of makes, models and serial numbers on hand to help with recovery in case of loss or theft. 

Cloud computing is wonderful for accessing and backing up files while traveling, but it ­carries risks. Look into activating two-step verification to doubly secure your cloud-held data. A common two-step approach involves confirmation via an app uploaded to another of your devices. 

Chris Allsop is a freelance writer based in the UK.