Travelling with your tech? Here are some essential tips to keep you and your bits safe
Planning a fun trip abroad this summer? In days gone by a holiday for you meant a holiday away from the office, but now that even the most basic smartphone is a PC in your pocket, most people tend to take more and more of their working life with them when they travel. For better or worse, modern technology makes it easier to stay in touch wherever we are in the world. If you’re planning on travelling abroad this year and taking your technology, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Wherever you roam, check your roaming charges -Taking your smartphone or 3G/4G enabled device into another country means you will be subject to “roaming” charges when using it to call, text or connect to the internet. It’s best to check with your carrier before you travel as to exactly what these charges are. If you’re lucky enough to be an EU citizen travelling to another EU country, the EU has recently put a stop to all roaming charges, meaning for the most part you should be free to use your phone as if you were still in your home country. However, if you intend to use your data allowance to access the internet too, you should still double check with your carrier that there aren’t any nasty hidden charges.
Remember that apps often use data in the background even when you’re not using them, and even something as simple as scrolling your Twitter timeline may gobble up data without you even realising. Windows 10, iOS and Android all have controls in place to limit the amount of data apps can use. For Windows 10, HowToGeek.com have a good article here on how to set up metered internet connections.
One way to avoid roaming charges is to use local Wi-Fi access, but that’s not always as simple as it seems.
Do you risk the Wi-Fi? – Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may need to take certain precautions that you don’t normally take at home. Maybe you can’t drink the tap water, or use the Wi-Fi. Wait, did you just say don’t use the Wi-Fi? Using public Wi-Fi is a risk, particularly if it’s a completely open hotspot that requires no password to use it. On such hotspots, anyone within the vicinity of the network can see exactly what you’re doing online and potentially read any e-mails or instant messages you send.
Hotspots that require you to enter a password are somewhat safer. In many countries, you can ask for the password from the staff. Even then, of course, you’ve no idea how this hotspot is maintained or managed. Security researchers talk of “honey pots”, Wi-Fi hotspots specifically set up to slurp your data, it’s entirely possible for a malicious operator to do this with his or her Wi-Fi access point. Furthermore, if the access point doesn’t have the latest security updates, other users on the same network could theoretically intercept your communications.
One way to safeguard against this is to use a VPN. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”. It creates an encrypted tunnel over whatever connection you use, then all your data is sent over this encrypted connection. It’s a good extra layer of protection and well recommended. At the very least, when using someone else’s Wi-Fi connection, only log into websites that are protected by SSL. You can tell when a site is protected by SSL as its address will start “https”.
Of course, nothing is foolproof, a really determined hacker may be able to break even a VPN, so understand the risks before jumping on an open Wi-Fi hotspot to make that emergency cash transfer for your big business deal you couldn’t conclude before you left home.
Keep your laptop on lock-down with encryption – It’s unfortunate but true that you’re more likely to have a laptop lost or stolen while you’re travelling abroad. If your laptop contains sensitive information you should make sure that it’s encrypted so that if it is lost, a thief cannot access your data. Using a simple Windows password won’t be enough normally, you need a proper solution. Currently there are two solutions, the free and open source VeraCrypt package and Microsoft BitLocker. VeraCrypt is available for free here and we have several tutorials available for the package here. VeraCrypt is preferred by many security conscious users because it is fully open source, meaning security experts around the world can audit the code. However, it can be difficult to set up VeraCrypt’s full disk encryption on more modern PCs.
BitLocker requires Windows Professional or Enterprise, so may require home users to splash out on a new updated license.To enable BitLocker, Control Panel and navigate to System and Security, then BitLocker Drive Encryption. You can also open File Explorer, right-click a drive, and select “Turn BitLocker on”. If you don’t see this option, you don’t have the right edition of Windows and will need to use Windows Anytime Upgrade to get a different version.
Crossing borders – If you intend taking your laptop with you on holiday, be sure to check the requirements for both air travel and entry requirements at the border. Some airlines will not allow you to carry a laptop in hand-luggage at all on certain flights. Controversially, the USA in particular may demand that you unlock your laptop and submit it for full inspection before permitting you to enter the country. One option is to buy an older laptop that will perform the bare minimum of the functions you want it to do. Load only the files that you absolutely need to work on, or store your work encrypted in the cloud using OneDrive until you reach your destination. Using an older laptop for this purpose also minimises the pain of any loss or theft should such unfortunate events occur.
Go technology free – Phew, there sure are lots of pitfalls to taking your tech with you on your trip! Why not simply make a clean break of it, if you’re going to holiday, leave it all behind, even your smart phone! Get away from it all and have a proper break, it’s what we did in the old days and it never did us any harm (at least that’s what you can try and tell your children when you try and pry their tablets or phones from their hands!). Wherever you’re going and whatever you decide, have a safe and pleasant trip!