Electronic devices have become integral parts of our daily lives. We depend on them for connectivity, productivity and access to information. While abroad, however, we need to be aware of the increased risks we face in terms of cybersecurity.
Using our cell phones, tablets and laptops in other countries can increase the risk of privacy breaches, system intrusion and device theft.
There are ways to protect your equipment, your information and your communications while traveling. Take the time to familiarize yourself to the following general guidelines and always check for updated resources before any foreign trip:
- The less you take the less you can lose. If you are not very sure you will need something, consider leaving it behind. This guideline applies to both devices and data (contacts, passwords, files).
- Be aware of basic security precautions. Keep devices with you – not in checked luggage, not in your hotel safe and not with airline or hotel staff. Be wary of public wireless Internet or Wi-Fi hotspots and use a virtual private network (VPN) if available. Never use the computers available in public areas, hotel business centers, or cyber cafés since they may be loaded with keyloggers and malware. Do not plug in any untrusted attachments, like USB drives or other connectors.
- Know before you go. Read up on specialized laws about the country or region you are visiting, including export control laws, possible illegal content, or encryption rules.
Additional tips and recommendations
- For global travel, consider utilizing temporary gadgets, for example, an inexpensive laptop and a prepaid cell phone bought particularly for travel. Any device you bring to a foreign country may be compromised, even without you knowing.
- If you do bring non-temporary devices, backup your data before you go. Install and configure encryption software.
- In many countries, travelers should have no expectation of privacy. While VPNs can bypass some levels of censorship, they should not be relied on to work at all times (for China, see: https://www.travelchinacheaper.com/vpns-still-work-china)
- Configure device according to minimum security standards. The following requirements are especially critical for foreign travelers:
- update your operating system and application software to the latest versions possible
- install and update anti-malware software
- choose strong passphrases
- for laptops, setup and use a personal account that does not have superuser (root, administrator) privileges
- After returning: change all passwords used abroad, run antivirus scans and delete apps used specifically for travel.
- Ensure that you have the correct plug adapters and power converters.
- You should assume no right to privacy at U.S. borders and points of entry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers can deny entry to the U.S. to individuals who refuse to unlock or surrender their electronic devices for inspection. (https://security.ucop.edu/resources/traveling-with-electronic-devices/faq.html)
For updated travel security information, please see these resources: