Data Security While Traveling Internationally

Greg Wilson, Head of Information Security
August 29, 2018

While technology provides many advantages to us in our daily lives, it can also be a source of risk to our personal information — especially while traveling internationally.

Whether you’re traveling outside of the United States for business or pleasure, it’s important to remember to take precautionary measures to protect yourself from potential threats of identity theft and stolen personal information. Unfortunately, your devices and information have a high risk of being compromised during international trips, which is why more concerted efforts are necessary before you leave, while you’re traveling and upon your return home.

 

Before Your Trip

  • Don’t put your trip on display  Prior to leaving the country, it’s best not to announce on social media that you will be away. If people know you are gone, there’s an increased likelihood that unwanted individuals could visit during your absence, taking not only your belongings but also any personal information they’re able to access.
  • Tell certain individuals  Leave your contact information and travel itinerary to those important people in your life whom you trust to look out for your best interest. These individuals can also be very helpful to you in the event you become a victim to hacking. They will be able to get in touch with you to let you know of any suspicious activity in your name, especially questionable calls made or fake emails that appear to be sent by you.
  • Inform banks and credit card companies  It’s necessary to notify your bank and credit card company that you will be traveling internationally so that they don’t cancel any transactions that take place during your trip. It’s wise to take as much cash with you as possible, but you should also take one credit card with you to use as needed. Use ATMs sparingly, though, as there has been an increase in instances of ATM skimming devices used in foreign countries that steal victims’ information from the cards’ magnetic strips.1
  • Obtain loaner devices — It’s better to take loaner devices with no data on them (which you can obtain from your company, if possible) with no data on them rather than your own personal items (such as your personal laptop) with you because your information will more than likely get breached, particularly if you’re traveling some place sensitive (e.g., China). Even in the customs area, there are possibilities of your information being breached, so do not bring your personal devices with all of your information stored on them. If you must take your own laptop, make sure all of your software is updated, and back up all of your data prior to leaving for your trip. Additionally, encryption is illegal in some countries, and you can be detained if encryption is detected on your device by international authorities.

 

While You’re Traveling

  • Avoid talking on your phone — If other individuals overhear you speaking, and it becomes apparent that you are American, you’re more likely to become a victim to theft of your personal belongings and information. Travelers, particularly Americans, are heavily targeted because of their lack of familiarity with the countries they visit, their unawareness of their surroundings and their high level of trust of strangers in foreign nations.2
  • Never send confidential communications — When traveling internationally, it’s best to assume you’re being monitored. Nothing you send is completely secure unless you have a secured communication mechanism (such as VPN), so make sure you don’t send emails or other communications containing your personal or confidential/sensitive information or anyone else’s personal information.
  • Use an alternative phone — If possible, have a separate cell phone that you only use while traveling.
  • Be wary of cybercafes — Cybercafes are public places (usually serving food and beverages) that have a number of computers with Internet access for public use for a certain period of time either for free or for a charge. If you use a computer at one of these places, make sure you don’t do anything that involves the input of sensitive information. Even something as simple as logging into Facebook can be dangerous, as your login information could be obtained by an outside source who can then hack into your account and obtain more of your personal information.
  • Report any missing devices immediately — If you lose or have any of your devices stolen, report it to authorities and to the company who makes the device or provides service for the device immediately so that the company can ensure no one else will be able to use your device. For instance, if anything happens to your iPhone, you should call Apple so that Apple can disable its use by anyone who already has it. Remember to wipe your phone to ensure that your data is not accessible. It’s important to report the stolen or missing property to the police, as well, so that there is record of it missing, and you will also need to report it to your firm so that any corporate data can be removed if you’re using a mobile device management application.
  • Conceal your devices — Make sure to secure all of your devices in the safe of your hotel room, or place them out of sight in order to prevent crimes of opportunity. Take only the cash, credit card and belongings you need with you for each time you leave, and lock up all of your other personal items and devices where they cannot be seen.

 

After You Return

  • Scan new devices — If you were given or obtained a new device (such as a thumb drive) while you were on your trip, run an anti-virus/malware scan on a computer outside of your company network before you use it.
  • Check your laptop — If you took your laptop with you on your trip, run an anti-virus/malware scan upon your return to ensure that your device was not compromised.
  • Notify your people that you’re back — Tell the same individuals you informed you were leaving that you have returned from your trip.

Whenever traveling anywhere — especially internationally — always make sure you are doing your part to keep you and your personal information and belongings secure. If you have specific concerns about where you’re going, you can check the U.S. Department of State’s “Alerts and Warnings” section of its travel website.

1 “Travelers fall victim to scams overseas,” Gary Stoller. USA Today. May 5, 2014.
2 Ibid.

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