CYBERSECURITY AND TRAVEL
OFFGRID|Issue 45
Techniques to Keep Your Digital Footprint Safe, Both Stateside and Abroad
Micah Dalton

The world has slowly returned to some semblance of normalcy after COVID, and with it comes an increasing desire to travel. Technology has made travel significantly easier, but this convenience also brings new risks.

When I began traveling full-time over 10 years ago, travel safety was merely a matter of personal physical safety. Never leave a bag unattended, always pay attention to surroundings, and so forth. However, in the current day and age, digital life presents new and significantly heightened threats. When you travel domestically or internationally, you’re now traveling with personal information that’s far more valuable (and that can be accessed far more readily by predators) than the contents of your bag. This shouldn’t be a deterrent to travel, so long as you prepare with a few simple measures to safeguard yourself and your devices.

In the weeks leading up to your trip, there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself and prevent an incident from turning into a catastrophe.

Always remember: The best way to protect your stuff is to leave it at home.

People have a tendency to overpack. I always say once you’re completely packed up, cut that load in half. The same applies to your electronic devices. People own multiple devices and feel like they need to bring them all “just in case.” Don’t. You exponentially multiply your risk with each device that you bring.

If you do have to bring a laptop, tablet, or another device, make sure you clean all personal information off of it before you leave. This should go without saying, but you should have a lock and password on all of your devices. Avoid face recognition and fingerprint recognition features, since they can be bypassed against your will through physical force. Furthermore, all of your passwords should be changed every three months. Before you leave home, I’d recommend that you update all your devices’ software and operating systems. This will improve their ability to ward off attacks from known vulnerabilities. Also, back up your information — that way, if something does happen to your device, you won’t lose all of its contents. You never want to connect to unfamiliar networks that have limited connectivity, or worse, that could be hijacked. A general rule of thumb I employ in my travels is that you’re always being watched, physically and digitally.

VPNs

The most important way to protect your information is to use a quality VPN service with end-to-end encryption. Essentially, what a VPN does is route your traffic through a secured pipeline from your device to the destination server. This will mask your IP address and location, making it much more difficult to track your online activity. Avoid surfing the net with standard browsers — they will all track you to some extent. Instead, use a proxy tool like JX Browser, ZAP, or Burp for anything sensitive so you can see the chain of supply to and from the sites you’re trying to visit.

Chrome and Firefox are rife with third-party plug-ins that can get you hacked, so if you must use mainstream browsers, make sure you keep them updated and avoid add-ons. Turn on the built-in security features such as pop-up blockers and cookie blockers, but be extremely careful about using third-party ad blockers. They are, in fact, malware in many cases.

Booking Securely

Another great buffer is to set up a “travel” or burner email that you can use for any reservations or activities that require an email. In addition to using disposable emails, pay attention to the security of smaller sites when you’re booking local excursions or tour trips. These sites aren’t going to be as secure, and you’re therefore more prone to attack when completing an online booking. At the very least, look for the padlock icon in your browser’s URL bar, which indicates that the site is using up-to-date SSL encryption. The best practice is to just call them and make arrangements over the phone; in the rare case that they won’t book over the phone, find a different company that’ll respect your privacy.

Physical Security

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