How to Keep Your Personal Data Safe While Traveling

Last updated: September 27, 2021

There are roughly 1.4 billion international travelers per year. There are many reasons to travel — for work, for pleasure, for family, and more. No matter where or how you’re traveling, you’re likely to be bringing along your phone, laptop, or both. 

It’s important to know how to safeguard your data while traveling. Being in a new place and using unfamiliar Wi-Fi leaves your data at its most vulnerable if you don’t have the proper protection set up. This guide will give you some best practices for data security while you’re away from home. 

Book From Secure Travel Websites

The first step to protecting your personal data when traveling is to book from a secure, reputable website. You can tell if a site is secure, right in the URL. If a site begins with “https,” this signals that it’s secure. If it’s just “http,” then it is not secure, and your data could be at risk. 

Ensuring you’re on a secure site is important for travel purchases. When you’re entering your credit card information and making hundred- or thousand-dollar purchases, you want to be sure you’re safe.

Enable Passcodes, Facial Recognition, or Two-Factor Authentication

Putting extra security measures on your accounts and devices is a good way to keep your data secure while traveling. If you have to access any accounts on a public or loaned device, two-factor authentication (2FA) helps ensure no one else can access your account, even after you return the device. 2FA is the use of two types of passcodes — typically a password and a PIN.

For personal devices, you can also enable biometrics, which uses your fingerprint or facial recognition. This can make your device easier for you to access, without compromising security. 

Backup Crucial Files

Before you travel, make sure to backup any crucial files. This is especially important if you’re traveling for work, and need to access these files. There are a few options you have when backing up files. 

Backing up to a hard drive can be more secure, as you have to have a physical hard drive to access the files. However, a hard drive can be easier to displace or damage while traveling. 

Cloud-based backups can’t be lost or damaged during travel and can be ideal for collaboration. However, cloud-based backups may be less secure. According to a survey by Ermetic, 80% of businesses reported a cloud security breach in the last 18 months. There are ways that you can make your backups more secure, such as encrypting your files or putting an item tracker on your hard drive. 

Use a VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, offers several benefits when it comes to securing your data. These benefits include:

  • Secure public Wi-Fi no matter where you go;
  • Being able to avoid regional censorship;
  • Prevent ISP tracking on your devices;
  • Access regional media, such as sports and news; 
  • Encrypts all your internet usage. 

These benefits make a VPN your best friend when traveling. You can purchase a VPN from several online companies at either a monthly or yearly subscription rate. Some VPN companies may also offer deals for students, business owners, or other priority professions. 

Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi poses a few different threats to your data. One of the biggest threats is that many public Wi-Fi networks are unsecured. This means that you do not need a password to connect to the network. While this is incredibly convenient, it allows anyone to connect to the same network. 

This allows hackers to easily position themselves between you and your data without your knowledge. Hackers can also set up a phishing network that looks like a public server. These networks appear as unsecured networks and are often named after a nearby business so that they seem legitimate. Once you connect to this network, the hacker will have access to your system. 

Businesses often address this problem by securing their Wi-Fi networks and handing out passwords on request. You can avoid hacking schemes by using your own Wi-Fi connection. You can use either a hotspot or VPN for your devices and skip public Wi-Fi altogether. If you can’t avoid public Wi-Fi, make sure you’re using a secured network and aren’t accessing any sensitive data. 

Disable Auto-Connect 

It’s smart to disable auto-connect and auto-sharing on all of your devices when traveling, especially to a new place. This includes disabling things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location sharing. Turning these features off can prevent you from connecting to a phishing network or leaving your device vulnerable to files being shared by people you don’t know. 

Turning off your location can help decrease the number of targeted ads you receive while traveling, as well as protect your accounts. If your location is off, someone can’t try to log in from your accounts outside your home without sending a security notification to you. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t use your GPS, it just means that you should disable auto-location on your apps, and instead enter your location manually when prompted. Investing in a VPN can help hide your location for you, as well as give you access to location-specific resources like streaming libraries. 

Install Antivirus Protection

Even if you aren’t traveling, you should have antivirus protection installed on your primary devices. This is simply good practice, as several internet scams rely on virus downloads. Antivirus can be especially helpful for travelers, providing extra protection when you’re using public Wi-Fi, such as networks at hotels or coffee shops.

You can purchase antivirus protection from many online companies, or see if your device’s operating system offers a free antivirus detection service. It’s important to note that if your device comes with a detection service, it may not come with virus protection. You can find this out by looking at the features of your device. 

Check Sensitive Accounts Securely

Even if your accounts are password-protected, it’s important to make sure you’re accessing any crucial accounts securely. You should only access any accounts that include your bank account number, credit card number, or Social Security number from your personal devices. 

Accessing these kinds of accounts on public devices can put your identity at risk. You may also want to avoid checking these accounts on public servers or Wi-Fi. Even work-issued devices or servers can be risky for your data, as they increase the number of entry points to your data. Using a personal hotspot, your phone, or your laptop is ideal for checking your sensitive accounts in public. 

When traveling, you should also monitor your account more closely for fraudulent charges. If you’re making purchases outside your usual locale, it can be easier for fraud charges to slip past your bank’s notice. 

Update Your Apps and Devices 

Updating your phone or computer may seem like a hassle, however, many of these updates include improved security in their new codes. This is why it’s important to keep them up to date, not just for user experience but for data protection as well. Out-of-date software is easier for hackers to manipulate because it’s been around longer and doesn’t have the most recent protections on it.

You can check if your device needs an update by searching in your settings if you don’t already get automatic notifications. Check if your apps need an update by searching them on your app store of choice or looking at them through the application settings on your device. 

Traveling can be a great experience, but it can be ruined if your data is stolen. By taking steps to protect your data while you’re on the road, you can make sure you don’t have to deal with a crisis away from your home base.

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Published on: September 24, 2021