I find business trips bring on a whole Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that I don’t suffer at any other time. Stressful enough as train stations and airports are, what with trying to get somewhere on time, I develop a whole set of nervous ticks and anxieties; checking bags and pockets twice a minute, searching for ‘free wi-fi’ signs, mains electricity sockets, looking over the shoulder to see who’s eyeballing my phone or laptop. Neurotic? Probably. But so far I haven’t been hacked or suffered loss or theft whilst travelling so I must be doing something right. Right?
Holidays are just as bad, when you relax and switch off from your normal routine, you forget the potential hi-tech dangers that travelling and connecting online present. These are the things I recommend for staying safe as a hi-tech traveller.
The Hi-tech Traveller’s Checklist
1. Plan before departure, relax at leisure
The first question I always ask is just how much kit do I need to take with me? The essential list always includes the phone and netbook, at least a cable to tether one to the other, maybe a 3G dongle, maybe the spare 2.5in USB 2.0 hard drive to store extra media or backup files on the road. Beyond that, I usually decide if I don’t need it, I don’t take it. Then consider if you can pack it safely, carry it, and how robust it is for when you or the stewads/driver/baggage handlers drop it.
2. Physical Loss
Keep your smart-phones, laptops, e-readers and tablets safe: close to hand and in sight at all times. They are just as valuable ( or more) away from home, don’t give the opportunist thief a free ball. Treat them like luggage and handbags. The reassurance of physical proximity – eyeball or bodily contact with the device, even in a case – will also deter thieves. Use inside pockets, with flaps or zips, in bags or clothing. Keep case straps looped around your arm, leg, or under the table, lounger or chair legs. Don’t leave your gear at the table when you go back to the counter for a refill.
3. Public Access Computing
When using internet cafés or venue computers be aware that key-logging hardware is easy to connect in order to grab personal data. Where you can, check the connections of the keyboard to ensure it is plugged directly into the PC. Not to malign every proprietor, or all their other customers, guests and staff, but there are dishonest people out there; shocking I know. If you can do your banking on trusted devices (your own or people you know well), so much the better.
4. Secure Site Access
If you are working on the road regularly, then have secure access set-up before you go. Have your websites, email and cloud storage secured as well as each platform allows. Have strong passwords, permanent secure HTTPS connections, even employ key-code verification generators or tokens for company network access. They are an expensive pain in the butt and I hate using them, but they add online security.
5. Free WiFi Networks
Public WiFi is not secure. Open wi-fi (without encryption) is the worst kind of Internet connection, as data isn’t encrypted as it flies through the air. Cafés, airports, train stations, hotels, libraries. Treat with caution. Make sure your firewall is ON and your anti-virus and malware detection programs are up to date – before you depart, don’t update them whilst using suspect networks! You could, with a little preparation, create a secure set-up to utilise your PC back at home or the office to run as a secure shell (SSH) server to do all of your Web browsing through an encrypted HTTPS tunnel across the Internet. There are a browser extensions such as HTTPS Everywhere to make this a little easier. These force your browser to connect by default to a site’s secure HTTPS server. More common than it was, not enough sites have an HTTPS server.
6. Limit Data Access
If you don’t need to log into your online banking or other sites containing your private information whilst travelling, DON’T. Sort all the mundane stuff out before you go. Minimise your exposure to those few activities you need during the trip.
7. Loose Lips Sink Ships
When using social networks, be aware of what you post. You decide what is your public foot-print. If everyone you know is saying ‘Allan is indisposed’, but you go broadcasting “having a great time at the beach” – well, you never know who may be watching. Adjust your privacy settings. Decide to whom and when you want to broadcast your location. Remember to set the burglar alarm at home and lock your valuables in the safe at the hotel. Posting your flight times for departure and arrival may not be the smartest thing to do. Naming your hotel and every bar, cafe and landmark you visit is great fun but not discreet.
8. Understand Privacy Settings
Don’t assume that your privacy settings will limit display of your movements to friends and family; Facebook privacy for example has more holes than Ementhaler cheese and they changed it again only last month. People re-tweet compulsively. Google-plus Circles – well, who knows the privacy settings for those yet? The laws of unintended consequences apply to social media more than ever.
9. Spot what’s Missing in this Picture
Your absence form social media can be as much of a give-away that you’re travelling as you broadcasting it out loud. A remote check-in while you’re away – WITHOUT using location tags – will keep you visible. You might consider using a scheduling client (such as Hootsuite) for mundane tweets and Facebook updates will make it look like you are still around.
10. When Visibility is Good
Some of the more remote, lawless and downright dangerous parts of the world (and that goes for some inner cities in developed countries!) are hazardous to the conspicuous traveller. Here, the social media can actually keep you safer if there is a breadcrumb trail of who you’ve met and where you’ve been. Post regularly and often. Snap people you meet on your camera phone even if you don’t post everything, it’s a deterrent to thieves and kidnappers who will move on to softer targets than you.
Wish You Were Here
With a little forethought, planning and some extra tools, you can be as safe, if not safer, online when travelling than at work or at home. Send us a postcard. AJS