- To stay secure while traveling, you should use a VPN to protect your internet connection and prevent interception of your information.
- You should also enable storage encryption and tracking to prevent unauthorized access if your device is lost or stolen.
- Consider switching to cloud-based desktop computing to further reduce the risk of data loss.
Your digital life is vulnerable while you’re traveling. Here are the ways you should protect yourself from fraud, theft, and data loss so that you can enjoy your trip assured that your devices and private data are secure.
Use a Trustworthy VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that secures your internet connection by re-routing and encrypting the information transmitted through it. This increases your security and privacy in two ways: your IP address and location is hidden from third parties, and the data you send and receive over the internet is much harder to intercept.
This last part is why using a VPN while traveling is important. When you’re on the road, you’ll be connecting to public Wi-Fi networks (airports, hotels, even taxis) that could be infected with malware that reads your internet traffic in the hope of recording valuable information like your website logins or payment details.
There are a few important VPN features to look out for when choosing a service for travel:
- Support for the different devices you own (for example, you might have a Windows laptop and an Android phone and require support for both).
- A ‘kill switch’ to prevent your internet from connecting without the VPN.
- Support for the countries you will be visiting (some VPNs may not work in some places, so it’s worth checking before you leave).
The best VPN providers provide native apps for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux devices. Some services support a range of devices by using standards protocols like OpenVPN, SSTP, and L2TP/IPSEC, but these are harder to set up and use.
Enable Storage Encryption
Storage and disk encryption stores the data on your device in a way that it cannot be read without the key to unlock it. This key is usually protected with your passcode, login password, or biometrics (using your fingerprint or face to unlock your device). When your device is encrypted, nobody can read the data on it without first unlocking it, which is great protection if your device is lost or stolen.
Your phone, tablet, and laptop contain a treasure trove of information about you, including your social media logins, private photos, and banking and payment details. You don’t want this falling into the wrong hands.
Windows and macOS computers all have built-in storage encryption (BitLocker and FileVault, respectively). iPhones/iPads and Android devices have file-based encryption too, which is enabled by default on newer devices. If you’re a Linux user, many distributions let you enable disk encryption during installation, or you can encrypt Linux volumes and files after installation.
If you are using an older device that doesn’t support full device encryption, you can still encrypt a USB stick to store your sensitive info while you’re traveling.
Switch to Cloud-Based Desktop Computing
You might consider switching to cloud-based desktop computing, which lets you run a whole Windows, Linux, or Mac desktop remotely—it’s especially useful for businesses. You can then access this cloud-hosted desktop from your phone, tablet, or web browser. This way, no data at all is stored on your device, so if it is lost, you simply need to purchase a new device, log into your cloud desktop, and resume work right where you left off.
Cloud desktops are popular due to the additional security and flexibility they provide. If your laptop is stolen, there is no sensitive data stored on it, or if it is broken, work-in-progress isn’t lost, and backups can be centrally managed by the cloud provider.
Use Strong Passwords and Lock Your Screen
You should secure your devices and user accounts with strong passwords and passcodes to make sure that they can’t be guessed. You should also set up your devices to automatically enable their screen lock with a short timeout, so that if someone does swipe your device while you’re using it, it’s more difficult for them to keep it unlocked and access sensitive applications.
Many banking and two-factor authentication apps also support additional passcode or biometric authentication that secure the app even when your device is unlocked, providing another layer of protection.
Password managers make it easy to keep track of the passwords you’re using, and can also be backed up to the cloud. This further enhances your security and provides a way to recover access to your accounts if your device is lost.
Use Trackers to Monitor Your Belongings
While it’s wise to be vigilant of pickpockets, you’re perhaps more likely to misplace your device or leave it behind in a hotel room than have it stolen. Tracking gadgets like Apple’s AirTags or the many great Android-compatible trackers are a godsend when this happens, allowing you to pinpoint the last known location of your phone, laptop, or other items.
Many devices also have built-in tracking functionality so that you can find them, or remotely lock and wipe them so they cannot be used. For example, you can track an iPhone, find an Android device, and set up Windows tracking.
Back Up Your Data Before You Leave
There’s only one sure method to make sure you don’t lose your important data: backing it up! Whether it’s important work or your family photos, if you only have one copy of your data you risk losing it permanently if that device is lost or damaged.
Backing up is the process of making extra copies of your data and storing it on a different device, in a different location where it can be retrieved if the original copy is lost. There are plenty of ways to back up your computer or mobile. All the popular operating systems include built-in backup software—Windows (File History), macOS (Time Machine), Android (Google One), and iOS (iCloud)—as do most Linux distributions (rsync). You can also back up to the cloud for an additional level of protection.
By following the steps above, you can travel confident that you’ve done everything you can to protect your devices (and yourself!) in the event of theft, loss, or damage.