Hitting the road -- or the skies -- is often a fun, eye-opening experience, but anytime you’re on the move in unfamiliar territory, you can become a target for pickpockets and identity thieves. That’s why it’s important to take a few simple yet powerful security measures both before and during your trip.
Protect Your Gear Before You Go
Preparation is half the battle when it comes to IT security while you travel. These tips can help ensure smooth sailing:
- Keep your antivirus software up-to-date. It’s a lot easier to control unwanted access to your computer when you’re using your home network -- with your own firewall -- to connect. But when you’re traveling, you’ll have to use networks you don’t own. Make sure you have the latest virus protection installed to guard against intrusion.
- Make photocopies of your credit cards and passport. Sophia Chao, a senior international product manager for Roche Molecular Systems Inc., spends one or two weeks out of every month traveling abroad for her job. One of her most important tips: Make copies of all your documents. “My admin has a copy of my passport, and I keep a copy with me. I also make copies of my credit cards and contents of my wallet -- other IDs, insurance cards and so on.” If your wallet is stolen, you’ll know the numbers to call.
- Take only the necessities. “I minimize what I take with me -- usually only one credit card, a debit card and my work credit card,” says Chao. “For business trips, I travel with a work computer only. I don’t travel with my personal computer.”
- Back up your devices before you leave. If your phone or laptop is compromised while you’re traveling, having a backup of your files, emails and contacts can be invaluable to help you get back on your feet when you return.
- Shut down your home network. The simplest way to prevent unauthorized use of your connection is to turn it off while you aren’t using it.
Protect Your Gear on the Road
Taking precautions while you’re traveling is a way of life for veteran globetrotters like Chao. She offers these tips:
- Use VPN software when you work over public networks. “My work computer has a VPN-like security grid that I have to use to access my work network,” she says. This extra layer of protection helps prevent unauthorized access to sensitive and confidential information.
- Use a privacy screen on your laptop. A thin film applied to the screen of your computer can keep the people around you from seeing what you’re working on. (You have to be looking at the screen straight on to see its contents.)
- Safeguard your devices. “I lock important items, like my computer and passport, in the safe in my room,” says Chao. “If I carry my computer with me, I put it in lock mode when I step away from it.”
Protect Your Gear: Worst-case Scenario
If the worst happens and you find yourself the victim of theft, hit the phones ASAP. “I had my purse stolen last year in Barcelona,” says Chao, who lost her passport, credit cards, ID, camera and phone. “I was on a business trip, and my company has an SOS number, so I called that and they sent me information on getting an emergency replacement passport. I also had the phone numbers of all my credit cards, so I was able to cancel all of them within 15 minutes of when I found out my purse was stolen.”
The extra copies of your critical documents that you stored in a safe place are the key to getting back on track quickly. “My admin had a copy of my passport, so that really expedited the replacement process,” notes Chao. “All in all, the recovery process was smooth and swift because I had all the information I needed.”
In that case, the next step will be to monitor your credit card statements and credit reports for fraud. See “Online Resources for Identity Theft Recovery” for more tips.
Jeanne Feldkamp covers business, technology, health care, fashion, food and sustainability topics for a wide variety of print and online publications. She’s based in San Francisco.