Traveller's Checklist for Ultimate Device Security
Unless you are going on a digital detox holiday, you are likely to bring at least one digital device with you on a trip abroad.
A phone is a must-have to ensure that you stay on top of travel logistics: hotels, flights, transfers, eating out and finding local entertainment. Business travellers, aside from mobile devices, tend also to pack a laptop to cover all business needs on a trip abroad. For some freelancers, business travelling may actually be a lifestyle. Making your way around the globe while working remotely (being a “digital nomad”) has become a lifestyle choice for many millennials thanks to expanding worldwide internet availability and willingness of employers to contract remotely-based freelancers from project to project. Either way, travelling requires a special approach to your personal digital security and the security of your online business.
Getting acquainted with local digital laws may be a good place to start
If you value your online privacy, you may need to take special precautions when visiting certain countries. EU-based netizens may be spoiled with EU’s robust privacy legislation that aims to protect personal data and give individual users more control to configure their online presence.
The same applies to the EU standards on freedom of speech and access to information online. But in countries like Russia or China, ISPs and telecommunication companies are legally obliged to share user communication data upon request from security services.
This leaves very little space for local communication providers to protect your privacy or freedom of expression. In China, some topics are simply taboo; among them, discussions about the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, China’s occupation of Tibet, or the subject of Taiwanese independence.
As a foreign traveller, you may not face the same consequences as a local citizen or a foreign resident if you break one of the Chinese laws regarding good behaviour in cyberspace, but a warning is certainly the least you can expect.
State surveillance practices translate not just into draconian laws for local ISPs, but in regulations for foreign digital ecosystem companies, VPN providers, or media outlets. For example, in 2018, Apple had to remove VPNs from its Chinese App Store to comply with local anti-VPN legislation. Facebook, Twitter, Google services, Wikipedia and Instagram are not accessible in China, while Russia blocked LinkedIn in 2017 when the platform refused to comply with its data localisation laws.
The bottom line is: some of the web services you are most used to may not be accessible when you travel to countries that aim to build their own version of the Internet. On the other hand, your device and your browsing history in such countries are easily exposed to the authorities through local ISPs.
Using VPN on a trip abroad is a step in the right direction toward better digital security. If you travel a lot and tend to visit countries where data security is of major concern, you need to invest in a VPN subscription that covers all possible cybersecurity risks and will not fail you even behind the Great Firewall of China.
This NordVPN review outlines just some of the benefits of this top-of-the-list VPN provider. It is highly recommended to download and install the VPN prior to your trip, because in some countries, even accessing the provider’s website will be a problem.
Make sure all data on your device are encrypted
In a few countries, it is not unusual for border security to ask you for your computer or external hard drives. It is important to make sure that all data on your device (mobile or laptop) is encrypted and password-protected, in case your phone or computer is taken away for a routine snoop.
Use encryption for your email and messaging services
As we already mentioned, in many countries it is a fairly straightforward process for security services to obtain your communication data from ISPs or track your device’s exact location at any given time.
To protect your sensitive personal or business communications, use email and messenger encryption.
VPN will already have provided sufficient protection to your online communications, but installing an email client like ThunderBird, or using PGP to encrypt your emails and instant messages is a responsible way to ensure no third party will intercept your online communications abroad (or at home, for that matter).
Avoid using USB drives
USB drives are a common tool to transfer digital data, especially in places with a poor internet connection. However, planting a virus, spyware or other types of malware on a USB drive is one of the easiest ways to gain access to someone’s device.
Sticking your USB drive into a public computer and then plugging it back in your own is always risky, as well as accepting another person’s USB drive. Antivirus and anti-spyware software may be helpful at times, but by no means provide foolproof protection.