Travel safe with your tech this summer
If you’re planning to travel this summer then you’re probably planning on taking at least a smartphone with you, possibly a tablet or laptop too. We’ve talked about gadget security for travellers in the past, but technology is always moving and improving, so here are some tips for keeping newer gadgets safe.
Laptop – To encrypt or not to encrypt – Over the years we’ve talked about how you can, and should, encrypt your laptop before you travel. The reason for doing this is obvious. If anyone steals your laptop, they won’t be able to access any of your data, unless they manage to steal the device while you have it unlocked, of course. If you do need to encrypt your laptop, we recommend the open source software VeraCrypt.
There’s one big disadvantage to locking down your laptop like this, and that’s the fact that any kind of “find my device” software cannot run. There are now several anti-theft programs that can be set to run on a laptop even without the user first logging in. These programs can secretly send the location of your laptop or tablet back to you, allowing you to inform law enforcement of its location. This requires that your device has a GPS device installed in it, though many modern devices do.
It’s certainly an attractive idea, leading the authorities directly to the nefarious villain who stole your laptop and apprehending them red handed. However, the reality might not be that exciting, as police departments around the world find themselves short on resources and unable to chase across town for a simple tourists laptop. Furthermore, criminals themselves are wising up to this technology and will often have their own countermeasures in place or may simply power down your laptop until it can be taken to a location where tracking is not possible. Once there, the hard drive or storage device can be erased and Windows reinstalled.
The decision to go with encryption or tracking (if available) essentially boils down to you. If your laptop is insured you might prefer simply to protect your data and passwords and claim on your insurance in the unlikely event that the device is stolen.
Find my phone – be prepared if you have to use it – Unlike your laptop or tablet, which tends only to be turned on when you’ve got some work or task to do, Smartphones tend to be powered on all the time, waiting in case a call or message comes in. The security model on phones has been designed around this and as long as you lock your phone, it’s very difficult for a thief to access the data on the handset. In some cities, there has been a spate of criminals who grab smart phones from peoples hands as they use them, so be careful if you whip out your phone in the middle of a busy city.
If the worst happens and your phone is lost or stolen, make sure you know how to use the anti-theft/security mechanisms built into modern smart phones. You can read about Apple’s Find my iPhone service here or how to find a lost Android phone here.
If your phone is lost or stolen, you will want to get to a computer as quickly as possible. To mark your phone as lost or stolen remember that you will need your Google account (for Android phones) or your Apple/iTunes account (for iOS phones/devices). This is NOT the same as the pass code you use to unlock your phone, so if you can’t remember it, make sure you have a record somewhere, even if you have to write it down and store it safely with your passport, for instance.
VPN – Still useful and don’t forget about your smartphone! – If you’re using the WiFi in a hotel or guest house, it may be completely unsecured and require no password to access. If this is the case, remember that anyone in range of the access point could potentially see the information you’re transmitting. That includes every site you visit, every e-mail or instant message you write and potentially your passwords and other sensitive information too. While using SSL to log into sites offers some protection, the best way to secure the connection is to use a VPN, which creates an encrypted tunnel that your packets can safely travel down.
VPN services are easy to use on Windows devices. We recommend iVPN as our preferred VPN provider for their strong commitment to privacy and security.
Of course, these days more and more data is sent using mobile phones rather than computers. If you use your mobile phone on an unsecured hotel WiFi access point, it’s just as vulnerable as your PC would be. To help with this, iVPN offer iOS and Android apps too. Alternatively, if you need to access more sensitive data, such as online banking or work related material, you could restrict those activities to your VPN protected PC, while using your phone for less sensitive activities like social media or photo uploading. All modern social networks now use SSL encrypted logins which are more difficult to steal even on an open Wifi network.
Perhaps you don’t need to use the hotel WiFi at all? Most mobile phone contracts come with a little data/internet access. It used to be that using this service while abroad was prohibitively expensive. However, if you’re an EU citizen visiting another EU country, you can enjoy the same price for data as you use when you’re in your home country, so that’s worth keeping in mind.
Store travel documents encrypted in the cloud – but remember the password! – Losing your travel documents, passports or other information is one nightmare scenario that hopefully you will never have to endure. If you do however, you can save yourself time at the embassy, hospital or police station by keeping a copy of your essential information in the cloud. Use a program like 7-zip to create a password protected archive to store your documents in. Of course, sensitive information like this should be protected with a password, but make sure it’s one you can remember in the event of an emergency.
Plan for the worst but expect the best – Phew! We hope all of our security tips haven’t put you off going on your holidays this year. Remember that the vast majority of trips go off without a hitch. Wherever you’re going, we hope you have a safe and pleasant journey.