Data security for travellers – a handy guide

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When on holiday, there are many things we consider: sun lotion factors, attractions to squeeze into your itinerary, currency exchange and what tasty dish to try next. However, one aspect that tends to skim the minds of travellers is data security, which is a big issue if they are taking a smartphone or tablet with them abroad.

Not only are you putting yourself at risk of losing your trip photos but it may be even more serious, such as your bank account being hacked or personal identity stolen. Here are some major tips to consider in terms of common security mistakes when abroad.

Go private, not public

Internet cafes are still very handy if you need quick access to your e-mails or a website, but as wi-fi continues to dominate the world, many of these businesses have shut up shop. This still hasn’t stopped hotels using public computers and these can be bad news, whether it be due to a lack of virus security, them being filled with unknown software or even some places installing key-logging software to capture anything anyone types, including usernames and passwords.

Of course, if its an emergency, you will have to use a public computer, but even in these situations don’t do anything involving money transfers, use the incognito mode on browsers, and USB sticks are good to copy data across as long as you scan it afterwards for viruses.

But then wi-fi isn’t great either

You can get wi-fi practically anywhere now, but if you are not using official networks by hotels, this is where problems can arise. If you are using a network where no password is required, practically anyone has access to your information, particularly the guy around the corner sipping on a coffee.

So what to do? Always be sure to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) software that connects you to a server somewhere else in the world, encrypting all information that passes. The best ones to pick are those that work in China, as if they do there, they will anywhere. If you can’t use a VPN, protect yourself by typing ‘https’ into the address bar, rather than ‘http’.

When in doubt, back it up

Sometimes you can protect yourself well but things simply go wrong somewhere. Your laptop could get stolen. Your phone breaks. Your memory card shows up a corruption error. It is therefore vital that you make a backup of everything, and this depends on what devices you are taking away with you.

If you are abroad with a laptop, then you can use a hard drive to back everything up or use an online cloud service. Note that there are free options such as Google Plus, Dropbox and iCloud but they do have a limit in storage capacity. If you are only carrying a tablet or smartphone then you may need a wireless hotspot service and this may be a more expensive option.

General protection rules

So you have done all of the above and you still find yourself victim to a security attack. Follow some of these general guidelines when it comes to protecting your data:

    • Make sure your device is always protected by a lengthy password or PIN
  • Enable encryption so your data is protected even in the wrong hands – do note that encrypting all data can take up to several hours
  • Tracking software will help you find stolen gear as they report their location, as long as they are working correctly before you go abroad
  • Some devices have the option where it will remotely delete everything on it the next time it connects to the Internet
  • Ensure your anti-virus software is always up to date
  • If your software has any updates, install them as they will tend to include new security patches against modern threats
  • Do not use the same password for everything

Keeping data secure does not have to be tricky abroad, just consider several things and get everything prepared beforehand. Backups tend to start automatically, encryption takes care of itself once you set it up, and once you create a strong password you are forever sorted. It may seem like a chore initially but at least its better than having everything you own gone in the blink of an eye – that would be one expensive holiday!

What happens if your data is lost?

If you have been unfortunate enough to fall victim, the first thing you need to do is report it to the local police. This serves as a chance to catch the criminal quickly but it will also give you a crime reference number. The latter is crucial as your insurance provider will ask for this if you are making a claim.

You need to make sure that you don’t panic – keep calm and consider all options. Ask yourself: what computers have you used recently? Has anyone asked for any personal details? Did you log onto a particular network on wi-fi? By knowing such details, you will help the police in tracking it down.

If it is financial data lost, you also need to immediately contact your bank. These days, financial institutions tend to have intuitive fraud detection systems that will pick up suspicious behaviour online and immediately halt your account, but things often slip through the net, especially if you have told your bank that you are going to be visiting that country. Let them know what has happened before anyone can withdraw money from your account.

This is not to say you should not be enjoying your holiday. Sit back and relax as that is what travelling is all about, but like anything when going away, take precautions to ensure you aren’t footing the bill when you get back home.