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Security tips for traveling near home and abroad

Adapting online (and offline) safety habits can help you stay safe.

By Diane Watkins

December 11, 2018

Man looking over another man's shoulder at his laptop.Whether you’re traveling abroad this holiday season or staying close to home, your mobile devices (smartphones, laptops and/or tablets) will likely be in tow. These devices make it easy to stay connected while on the go but can also store a lot of information — including contacts, photos, videos, location and other personal and financial data — that could expose you, your friends or your family to cyberthreats.

Following are several safety tips adapted from the Educause Review to help you relax and enjoy your time away this holiday.

Before you travel:

  • Ensure that any device with an operating system and software is fully patched and that security software is up to date.
  • Install a device-finder or manager (with remote wipe capabilities), and learn how to use it in case your device is lost or stolen.
  • Keep prying eyes out by using strong passwords, passcodes or smartphone touch/face ID to lock and protect your devices.
  • If possible, do not take your work or personal devices with you on international trips. Instead, consider using temporary devices, such as an inexpensive laptop and a prepaid cellphone. If you do take your devices, remove or encrypt any confidential data.
  • Make copies of your travel documents and any credit cards you’re taking with you. Leave the copies with someone you trust, in case the items are lost or stolen.
  • Avoid posting social-media announcements about your travel plans; such announcements make you an easy target for thieves.

While you’re away:

  • Don’t use an ATM unless you have no other option — working with a teller inside a bank is safer. If you must use an ATM, do so only during daylight hours and ask a friend to watch your back. Also check the ATM for any skimming devices, and use your hand to cover the number pad as you enter your PIN.
  • Never use computers available in public areas, hotel business centers or cybercafés, as they may be loaded with key loggers and malware. If you use a device belonging to other travelers, colleagues or friends, do not log into email or any sensitive accounts.
  • Be careful when using public wireless networks or Wi-Fi hotspots. They are not secure, so anyone could potentially see what you’re doing on your computer or mobile device while you’re connected.
  • Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when not in use. Some stores and other locations search for devices with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled to track your movements when you’re within range.
  • Keep your devices with you at all times during your travels. Do not assume they will be safe in your hotel room or in a hotel safe.
  • It’s hard to resist sharing your adventures on social media, but it’s best to hold off on posting until you return home.

When you return:

  • Change all passwords you may have used while traveling.
  • Run full antivirus scans on all devices used during your travels.
  • If you downloaded any apps specifically for your trip and no longer need them, be sure to delete those apps and the associated data.
  • If you used a credit card while traveling, check your monthly statements for any discrepancies for at least one year after you return.
  • Verify that your smart home devices (TVs, cameras and appliances) have the most up-to-date security software installed.
  • Share your photos with family and friends, and enjoy reliving the experience!

See articles about securing mobile devices, using Wi-Fi when traveling, common cybersecurity threats and safer social media for more helpful security tips.

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