Cybersecurity Safety Tips for the Modern Traveler

Photo from PxHere

Cybersecurity Safety Tips for the Modern Adventurer

Travel Safely and have the right kind of adventures

By Mary Keane, Cybersecurity Business Counselor, CyberWyoming

When we plan our next adventure, we focus on what new landscapes we’ll see and unforgettable memories we’ll make. But amid the excitement, it’s easy to forget about the less glamorous side of travel—like safeguarding your digital identity and all your tech gear.

I recently spent a month traveling in Europe with a laptop and smartphone. These are the tips I used to stay safe – don’t worry, I’ll list the recommendations at the end. For now, just read and understand why and how to enhance your cybersecurity while traveling.

A VPN Service – Your Best Friend While Traveling

Digital thieves are everywhere, including at the airport, on planes, and in train stations. Most of these locations also offer free Wi-Fi which makes it even easier for hackers to steal your data BUT you can thwart those thieves with a VPN. I have VPN always enabled on my laptop and phone. It’s like a digital invisibility cloak, protecting me from anyone grabbing my credentials and personal information.

I use Nord VPN, which works best for me. I didn’t notice any speed issues when I used it, even when I used a Nord U.S. based server while in Ireland when my bank balked at letting me log in from another country.

There are other VPN services that are also excellent. Some tips for selecting one:

  • Make sure the company offering the VPN service has a server to connect to in the country or countries you are visiting. For example, Nord VPN doesn’t have a server that I could connect to in India so if I traveled there, I would pick a different VPN service company before I left the US.
  • Your VPN should allow you to install on multiple devices. Nord VPN allows five devices on my account which covers my and my husband’s laptops and cell phones.
  • Do not rely on a browser VPN as they aren’t real VPNs. They may give you some protection, but not what you need when traveling. For example, they only give you protection within the browser so if you use Outlook to access your email then you don’t have protection at all.
  • Use a reputable website’s recommendation so you can find the right VPN for your needs and get a discount code. I was able to get a discount code for 20% for my first year plus four free months. Here are some sites that will help you choose a VPN:

Protect Your Digital Assets

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to lose a black phone, purse, briefcase, or sunglasses? The color blends into the background, making it more likely that you won’t notice your objects left behind in a plane seat or on a restaurant table. I use a bright red phone case and multi-colored backpack to help me keep track of my digital items. I also use a strap for my phone case, so that I can wrap it around my wrist while I’m reaching over a bridge to take the perfect picture of the beach or mountainside. I’ve seen too many videos on social media of a tourist dropping their phone off a boat, bridge, or mountain. I also use the strap when I’m taking pictures or using the map app in a crowd to ensure someone doesn’t just pluck the phone from my hand and run.

But let’s say you lose your phone, like I did in Spain a couple of years ago. I’m sure you can imagine my panic at not only losing my phone but also my credit cards and driver’s license which were in the phone case. I had protected my phone with a six-digit PIN (like you have, right???), so I wasn’t worried they would get my data. I called my husband from the hotel (if you don’t have important phone numbers memorized, make sure you have a list of them in your luggage and another bag), and he pulled up the “Find My Phone” app. He could see that the phone was moving, so he started sending a pinging noise to the phone and texts with the name and phone number of the hotel. Forty-five minutes later, the hotel received a call that my phone was at the town hall. At the end, I’ll give a link on how to set your iPhone or Android to show text messages on the lock screen.

One last thing to keep in mind – I always bring padlocks with me. At some point I usually have to leave a bag at a hotel or storage locker, and I use the padlock for extra protection. A cable lock so you can attach the bag to a desk or table is even better. Just remember – don’t lock your luggage while traveling on a plane unless it’s an approved TSA lock.

Chargers and Cords

Sometimes I feel like half of my suitcase is taken up with chargers and converters when I travel. But there’s no point in bringing the tech with me if I can’t charge it. Most large towns and cities in Europe can sell you a new iPhone or Android cord so I only pack one. But it can be more difficult to purchase a computer charger, and, if you do, you’ll get one with a plug for that country’s electrical socket and not be able to use it back in the US.

Many hotels have USB outlets which are safe, for now. to use. But never use a USB outlet in a public location like an airport, train station, restaurant, etc. Hackers have figured out ways to steal data and introduce malware through a charging USB outlet.

 

If you’re traveling overseas, I have learned that the all-countries-in-one converters are terrible. Even if they fit the electrical socket, they can’t sustain the weight of a computer or phone cable without a lot of propping from water bottles and towels. I suggest you look up the converter for the countries you are traveling to and purchase a converter with at least 2 USB ports for each country.

Lastly, I have learned through experience that you’ll want to have a lot of plastic storage bags to keep the cords organized. Each cord should go in its own bag. The reason? Physics – specifically string theory. If you’re bored, you can look it up. Or just take my word for it, in my opinion, order always develops into knots of chaos.

Photo from PxHere

The List of Tips

Here’s the promised list of tips.

  1. Use a VPN on laptops and phones. These sites will help you choose one plus give you a discount code:
    1. CyberNews – https://cybernews.com/best-vpn/
    2. PC Magazine – https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-vpn-services
    3. Macworld – https://www.macworld.com/article/231047/best-vpn-for-mac.html
  2. Use colorful containers for your digital products so they are easier to spot.
  3. Use a strap on your phone when taking pictures and in crowds.
  4. Make sure your phone uses a six-digit PIN number and biometrics for access.
  5. Enable Find My for your phone, laptops, and tablets. Google has this capability and so does Apple.
  6. Have two copies of important phone numbers and put them in different bags, just in case.
  7. Enable texts to appear on your lock screen.
    1. Google Android – https://support.google.com/android/answer/9079661?hl=en#zippy=%2Cchange-notifications-for-your-device
    2. Apple iPhone – Settings > Notifications > Show Previews > Always

However, be careful with this one if you use text messages to confirm that it is really you signing into your bank account. If you choose to show texts on your lock screen, then be sure to get an authenticator app like Google Authenticator for your two-factor authentication method or create a super-secret email address and switch your 2FA to that before you leave on your trip.

  1. Bring a padlock for each bag that should be locked when at a hotel or storage locker.
  2. Bring at least one charger for each device including the plug and store them in their own separate, small plastic bags.
  3. Do not use USB plugs in public locations like airports, train stations, or restaurants.
  4. If traveling overseas, bring a country-specific converter rather than an all-countries-in-one converter.
  5. Lastly, good luck! And remember that traveling is like downhill skiing. Go around the obstacles, be flexible, bend your knees, and eventually you’ll get back home, with lots of great memories and experiences.

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