Part 1: Cyber Security
Millions of people travel through airports and airlines for business or personal reasons every day, and most of them will carry a laptop, smart phone or some other device during their travels. When you and your devices are in motion, particularly while going across international borders, you and your devices are at the most vulnerable to be compromised. Here are some guidelines you should follow to protect yourself and your data.
1.) Lock and secure your devices
Most smart phones, laptops, tablets etc. have security measures such as password protection, pin number protection, and finger print, facial or retinal authentication. Ensure that you have security protocols enabled on everyone of your devices. This will be the first and most obvious line of defense your data will have.
2.) Disable network autoconnect
Not only does wifi autoconnect drain your battery, the networks that your device sees will also see your device. If you have autoconnect disabled, it will mean only the networks you manually connect to will see your device. This provides protection against wondering virtual eyes you don’t want following you.
3.) Avoid public WiFi
While it’s a nice amenity to advertise, Public WiFi is very insecure, and can be a great avenue for cyber criminals, viruses and worms to target your devices. Most public WiFi networks are unencrypted, which should be a red light warning to begin with. Furthermore, if you are traveling abroad, the legal frameworks guarding cyber security may not be as robust as your home country, so you may not have as much recourse to recover your information. It is best to simply avoid public WiFi access points.
4.) Turn off location sharing
Most modern smart phones, tablets and laptops have location sharing features. Location sharing features have come a long way in a short time, to the point where my iPhone 8 can advertise the exact building I’m in, what part of the building, and on which floor. While it’s fun to show off to your pals on Facebook that you are somewhere new and exciting, it’s also an excellent way to advertise to tech-savvy criminals that you are away from your hotel room or abode and your possessions contained within. Basically, it’s a giant “ROB ME” sign, so be sure to turn location sharing off of your devices when traveling.
5.) Disable Bluetooth
This is just like WiFi and Location Sharing, but worse. Bluetooth connections can come from anywhere. Since the technology that underlies Bluetooth is much older than WiFi or location sharing, it was not designed with cyber security or encryption in mind. If you have Bluetooth enabled on your device(s), anyone with a Bluetooth enabled device in range of your device can simply connect to your device(s), and steal any data you have on your device(s). So ensure that Bluetooth is disabled when you are not actively using it, especially when traveling.
6.) Make sure antivirus is installed and up to date
This goes without saying, and regardless if you are traveling or not. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you have an updated antivirus program installed on all of your devices. If you need help finding an antivirus program to install, then here you go.
7.) Ensure your Operating System has been updated
Windows, iOS and most other operating systems send security and update patches out on Patch Tuesdays. Ensure that you have automatic updates set, or that you manually have your devices search for and install any and all updates regularly. This protects your OS from the most recent vulnerabilities.
8.) Make sure you are using secure passwords
I have detailed this in previous posts, but password protecting your accounts and devices is one of the easiest and most common front line defense you possess against cyber security criminals. Ensure you are using a strong password, and update your passwords regularly if they are shorter than 16 characters.
Part 2: Physical Security
Besides your cyber security, your physical security is also important, if not more so. Below are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way for traveling abroad. You can benefit from the lessons of my mistakes to protect your physical self.
1.) Always wear a money belt or fanny pack that can hide under your shirt
Pickpockets are a threat the globe over, and they are very crafty at what they do. I had my wallet in a front pocket with my hand mere inches from it wresting at my side, and I still managed to get pick-pocketed in the Athens Metro while traveling only one stop between the Akropoli and Sytongma stations. Ever since, I’ve traveled with a money belt with a strap that goes around my waste and a second that goes over my shoulder, and it has separate and secure pockets for cash, cards, and my passport. I have not been pickpocketed since. I know they look ridiculously stupid, but it’s better to be the perpetrator of a fashion crime than the victim of an actual crime. Which brings me to my next tip…
2.) Only carry on you what you absolutely need
I was smart enough to only have on me the cash I rationed out for that day when I got pickpocketed. I kept my passport, jewelry and the bulk of my cash in my Airbnb’s safe. When traveling in places unknown, travel lightly, and don’t flaunt anything that would attract thieves. It’s better to maintain a low-key appearance when traveling abroad than to flash expensive jewelry or clothes. Plus, if you do end up getting mugged or pickpocketed, it will not set you back too much, nor ruin the rest of your trip. I still had a blast the rest of my time in Greece, because I ended up only losing 40 Euros, my credit card which I wasn’t planning on using during my trip and I could cancel instantly, and my Denver Public Library card.
3.) If you travel to Israel, request that they do not stamp your passport directly
Israel and the rest of the Middle East do not get along. It’s no secret, and I’m not going to go into the politics of it here because that’ll be a full treatise. With the exception of Egypt and Jordan, Israel does not have any diplomatic relations with any other Arab country, and none of those countries recognize Israel. Consequently, travelers with an Israeli stamp in their passports can expect issues traveling across the Middle East, which is a shame because Tel Aviv and Dubai are both amazing cities and growing nodes in the Tech world. Israel knows this is an issue for travelers, so they will stamp the customs form you are required to fill out when entering and exiting the country (Form 17L) instead of your passport upon request. Making this request will save the frequent traveler a lot of hassle.
4.) If you are an American (like me), try to speak as softly as possible
America is a huge country, with vast tracks of open space and more than enough room for all the people and all the buffalo contained within. It has one of the lowest population densities in the world. Consequently, Americans have developed the subconscious need to project their voices in order to be heard by their fellow compatriots across such open spaces. In the rest of the world where people live in much closer proximity, there isn’t this need to project one’s voice, and as a result Americans are readily identified by their loud voices, and it does not translate well in a cultural sense. Save yourself the hassle stemming from misconceptions and stereotypes by trying to speak more softly when abroad. It will save you from becoming a target. Americans are already perceived to be wealthy. Compound this with the fact that interpersonal social customs from the United States often clash with local customs in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Furthermore, the political dimension of being the world’s superpower creates a microscope of global attention focused on it’s foreign policy. The lack of popularity with certain action’s by the American government means that Americans traveling abroad offer a very popular target to pickpockets and muggers since they are perceived as a tangible symbol of American governmental policy, especially loud Americans who stand out in a crowd.
5.) Always drink bottled water, never tap water
Different countries in different parts of the world have different standards for what chemicals or nutrients are contained in their water supply, and what materials are used in constructing their water delivery systems. When you are a child and your digestive tract is still developing, your body adapts to your local tap water system in order to be able to process the water, bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and metallic compounds contained within. Consequently, because different countries and regions possess differing tolerations for sanitation, chemical disinfectants, and organic material contained within the water supply, your digestive system can have adverse reactions to foreign water systems. Avoid tap water when abroad, and instead rely on bottled spring or bottled purify water, preferably from brands that you are already familiar with. Don’t ingest water while showering, use bottled water when brushing your teeth, and avoid foods that require tap water in preparation, such as fruits, salads, shellfish and cheese. I made the mistake of brushing my teeth with the tap water in the the Yucatan, and ended up spending a day in a Mexican hospital as a result. The last thing you want is Montezuma to exact his revenge upon you while traveling.
Part 3: Airport Security
Lastly, as some of you who travel are aware, going through the airport security line, regardless of how long the wait, is a pain in the tuchus. Here are some tricks that I use to make my turn through the security screening and globetrotting the world as quick, seamless and efficient as possible with the technology I carry on my person.
1.) Make and store digital copies of your important documents in Dropbox or similar password protected online vaults.
Before I leave for the airport, and especially if I’m going abroad, I will take a scan of my passport, another form of photo ID, bank card, medical insurance card, a list of emergency contact numbers, airline tickets, and hotel confirmations, and I save them in an encrypted and password protected place on the internet or in the cloud (in my case, in an encrypted and password protected folder in my Dropbox account). I do this so I can access it from anywhere that has an internet connection on the planet in case of an emergency, and I have everything backed up.
2.) Pregame the security line
When I get to the airport, but before I get to security (normally while en route to the airport if I’m not driving myself, or at the ticketing counter waiting to check in) I will remove my cell phone, as well as my belt, wallet, jewelry and anything metal and put it in a dedicated front or side pocket in my knapsack or bag that I can easily access so that the only thing I’m carrying is my ID and ticket, and all I need to take off when I get to the security line is my shoes.
3.) Ensure you have enough juice for your phone
I normally keep in that same front pocket my phone charger, headphones, and 2 external phone battery charger packs so I can be sure that I have enough juice on my phone to get me through to my destination. Nowadays, most airlines have dedicated phone charging outlets at the terminal gates, and the newer planes have USB ports under or beside the seats, so in my mind I am completely covered with one battery pack, but two gives me a more security.
4.) Enable easy access to your laptop for quick through time at security
I use a backpack with a separate laptop compartment from the rest of the bag, and it’s easy to access from the zipper. Since security requires your laptop to be screened separately from the rest of your stuff, I make sure my bag is packed so that my access to my laptop is unobstructed. All I need to do is just unzip the top of my bag, put my hand in, it’s the first and only thing I will touch, and I can pull it right out without anything impeding or getting in the way.
5.) Utilize secure WiFi connections in order to save money
Once through security, if you have a WiFi enabled device, like a tablet or a smart phone, many airports in the United States have free and encrypted WiFi, so you can make international calls using Skype or hangouts without getting charged for calling internationally. However, ensure that you are on a WiFi network you can trust, and that your connection is encrypted, otherwise it’s best to avoid going this route.
This article is not meant to scare you from traveling. In fact, I would encourage anyone with the means and ability to travel. Traveling for professional reasons can be done more securely with the tips above. However, traveling for vacation, or other personal reasons is very rewarding. You get to meet new people, learn new cultures, and expand your horizons. Furthermore, one of the best ways to tear down barriers is for normal people like you and me to meet normal people from other cultures, and develop those people to people contacts that enhance understanding and cooperation. Traveling is so rewarding, and being secure by taking the necessary precautions will make it all the more fun.