Travel Safe with Your Data

Traveling internationally significantly increases the risk to your data. Here are some tips that you should consider while traveling abroad.

All Data Can't Travel

When you take your company data abroad, you have to get your employer's permission. You might want to get the consent in writing, as it may be needed at the border. Not everything on your computer, can be taken with you during international travel. Every country has export laws on Software; most commonly there are restrictions on encryption software. Also, certain types of material may not be allowed in the host country (or in a country that you just happen to be traveling through). For instance, in the US, adult content is allowed under free speech, but this is not the case in all countries. Be careful! Some e-books may be banned in other countries.

Start with Clean Slate

Back up all your data before you start your trip. Generally you would be safer if you take a clean "disposable" laptop for your travel. Load only essential software and data. Have a good antivirus software (e.g. AVG, Avast). Don't forget to enable the firewall. Turn file sharing and network sharing off. Turn on Bluetooth® and wifi only when needed. Create a user account without administrative privileges for your regular use. Disable your guest account. Rename the administrator account (if possible) to make it harder for a hacker to spot it. Use passwords that are strong, but easy to remember.

Secure, Secure, Secure

Update all software to close security gaps as much as you can. Set a BIOS password to protect you from someone changing your computer's startup settings. Turn on the screen lock to make require a password to re-access once locked. Enable harddisk encryption (e.g., bit locker in Windows, FileVault in Mac) to protect your data. Block the ports that are not required. This is one way intruders can get in. Disable USB ports. Also, disable booting from USB or DVD/CDROM. If you don't do this, a hacker can happily compromise your system by using boot disks.

Turn off cookies and disable your browser's auto fill feature. Increase the privacy level of your browser to the highest possible setting. Never save any passwords. Also install tracking software, which can help locate your laptop just in case you lose it (e.g, Find My IPhone).

Snoop Proof

Some governments may install spyware on your computer without your knowledge while accessing network or network services. If what you are doing is sensitive, snoop proof your computer. For example, disable your microphone and tape your webcam (if installed).

All Hotspots are Not Equal

Be selective of the wifi hotspots that you connect to. Especially, be careful about unsecure wifi. Use end-point-encryption such as HTTPS when loading a website. Make use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology, if possible. You may want to connect to VPN services provided by your company. Or there are a number of free VPN providers available that you can try. (Example: Cisco AnyConnect or CyberGhost VPN). Better not log into sensitive web sites or accounts when using wifi. Don't store the network or have the laptop/phone forget the network after use.

Don't access any financial site if possible. Turn on two factor authentication for online banking, stock trading or other sensitive accounts. That helps you to protect the account even if the password is compromised. Close the browser after use to remove sensitive data from the memory.

Mobile Safety

Back up all your data before you hit the road. Be sure to set a PIN protect your phone. Turn off the phone's Bluetooth® and wifi. That helps the battery too. If you setup your phone as a hotspot, turn it on only when needed. Also, make it invisible so that someone cannot connect without knowing the network name. Again, carry a cheap disposable phone if you can. Use https with the URL when browsing on your phone. That is, you may want to load as instead of

Devil is in the Data Plan

Your data plan may provide you international roaming. So if you travel, make sure you disable data plans or regulate your data usage, unless you want to pay huge roaming charges. Download maps, reading materials and anything else you want to use before you start your trip. In general, cellular data network is more secure than wifi, so you might want to use that for the most sensitive data access. You may also be able to switch to local cell providers if you are going to be in a location for long. Cellphones you buy locally may have spyware installed on it - so beware. (If possible, try to buy a cell phone that works in the target network before you start your trip.).

Travel Accessories

You might need a travel plug. Most likely your adapter will work in all countries, you just need to plug in to the wall socket. Carry an Ethernet cable to connect to the wired network. Also, a cable lock will be handy to secure your laptop.

Yay! Back Home.

When you get home, you are not done yet. Scan all your files for malware (viruses, Trojan horses, etc.) that you might have picked up during the travel. Copy essential data required and format the harddisk of your disposable laptop and stow for the next trip. If you are using your regular laptop, change all your passwords. Also, change passwords for the websites you visited during your trip.

With good safety habits and some precautions, traveling with your data should not be too scary. As always, when in doubt always ask a Computer Security expert or your company's IT administrator. Happy travels!!

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