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Traveling with Technology: Keeping Your Devices and Information Safe

Airport security is there to keep you safe when you fly. But who’s keeping your technology safe? These days, most of us bring along our laptops, tablets, or smartphones when we travel, but without the proper safeguards, we can be easy targets for criminals. And it’s not just the devices that the criminals are after; it’s also the data inside, which can be just as valuable—and vulnerable. So the next time you put your toiletries in a zipped plastic bag and choose your easy-to-slip-on shoes, be sure that you also take steps to protect your technology for the trip.

Steer clear of free Wi-Fi
Whether you’re in an airport, a train station, a café, or a hotel, avoid using the free Wi-Fi. Hackers can create their own hotspots at these locations and gain access to any unprotected device that logs onto the network. When you’re on a public network, your personal data—user IDs, passwords, account information—is all there for anyone to see and steal, and your computer is open to whatever virus or spyware the hacker wants to send your way. Some of these criminals may even continue to have access to your computer after you’ve left the hotspot.

If you have to connect to the Internet when you travel, follow these tips:

  • As mentioned above, never connect to a public Wi-Fi network, unless you can verify its legitimacy.
  • Disable your wireless adapter. Even if you’re not trying to connect to a hotspot, your computer may be trying on its own to connect to the available Wi-Fi. Disable your computer’s ability to automatically find and join wireless networks.
  • Be sure that your antivirus, spyware protection, encryption software, and firewall are up to date.
  • Move files containing sensitive information from your hard drive to an encrypted flash drive or removable media device, and delete the files from your computer. Leave the device and your sensitive files at home. You can put the files back on your computer when you return, after you run a full virus scan.

Be smart about your smartphone
Unfortunately, as smartphones have become popular, so has smartphone hacking. Take these precautions to protect your smartphone, whether you’re in your neighborhood or on a business trip:  

  • Password-protect your phone at all times. Be sure to use a strong password of multiple random numbers (not just one number pressed four times).
  • Delete sensitive documents and files from your smartphone.
  • Update all apps regularly.
  • Turn on your phone lockout/reset setting. Smartphones allow you to set controls that either lock out the user or reset the phone to the factory setting if the incorrect password is entered too many times.
  • Set up a phone locator application, if available. If you have an Android, be sure to set up Android Device Manager to track your device and, if it can't be retrieved, remotely wipe it. If you have an iPhone, the Find My iPhone app comes free with the current operating system.
  • Enable remote wiping. Many smartphones can be configured to allow users to remotely wipe data in case a device is lost or stolen.
  • Turn off automatic logins for websites and apps. If you have saved your credentials for automatic logins, turn these off while traveling.

Never leave your devices behind
This may sound obvious, and yet it’s so easy to ask a stranger to watch your things “for a minute” while you step away to go to the restroom or grab a cup of coffee. You should take everything, including all of your devices, with you. Never ask a stranger to keep an eye on your belongings; it’s not worth the risk. The only person who can keep your information and devices safe is you!

Keep an eye out at the airport
As you rush into and out of the airport, go through security checks and baggage claim, and even sit on the plane or in a café, know where your things are at all times. And be sure to watch out for anyone who might peek over your shoulder as you work.

We’ve all become so dependent on our technology devices that we can’t imagine living without them. It’s easy to forget how vulnerable they can make us to both property and identify theft. But by taking a few precautions, we can enjoy our technologies and our privacy, even on the road.

2017 Commonwealth Financial Network