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Protecting Your Tech While Traveling

Due to enhanced security measures in most countries, travelers with tech should be prepared for possible disruptions or additional wait times during the screening process. Here are some steps you can take to help secure your devices and your privacy.

Good to Know:

  • While traveling within the United States, TSA agents at the gate are not allowed to confiscate your digital devices or demand your passwords.
  • Different rules apply to U.S. border patrol agents and agents in other countries. Federal border patrol agents have broad authority to search everyone entering the U.S. This includes looking through any electronic devices you have with you while you are traveling. They can seize your devices and make a copy for experts to examine offsite. Learn more from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about digital privacy at the U.S. border.

Tech Travel Tips:

  • Take only needed data: Look at reducing the amount of digital information that you take with you. This may mean leaving some of your devices at home, using temporary devices, removing personal data from your devices, or shifting your data to a secure cloud service. Authorities or criminals can't search what you don't have.
  • Back-up and encrypt: Most travelers will likely decide that inconvenience overrides risk, and travel with their electronic devices anyway. If this is the case, travelers should focus on protecting the information that they take with them. One of the best methods to do this is to use encryption. Make sure to fully encrypt your device and make a full backup of your data that you leave back at home.
  • Say no to unsecured public Wi-Fi: Having a wireless connection is almost a necessity for the modern traveler. However, using an unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspot can allow others to view the contents of your electronic activity. Never access your sensitive financial accounts from an unsecured network. If you must access sensitive data from an unsecured network, be sure that you use VPN.
  • Be smart about posting on social media: It is always fun to post vacation pictures in the moment, but online postings on social networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) can let other people know that you are not at home and that your home may be empty. Posting vacation pictures on social media once you are safely home helps protect your physical belongings.
  • Double check your MFA settings: Many of us rely on multifactor authentication (MFA) to secure both personal and work-related accounts. Be sure that you know how (or if) that will work in the countries that you are visiting. For instance, if your MFA relies on SMS, be sure that you will be able to receive that message in the destination that you are visiting. If the option is available to you, consider using a physical token option to ensure you'll be able to login to your accounts.
  • Disable browser's cookies and autofill: Make sure to log out of browsers and apps that give you access to online content, and remove any saved login credentials. This will prevent anyone from using your devices (without your knowledge) to access your private online information. You may also temporarily uninstall mobile apps and clear browser history so that it is not immediately apparent which online services you use.
  • Voltage matters: Like plug types, different parts of the world use different voltages. Make sure that your technology devices can run on the voltage used at your destination. Getting shocked with 220V is not the same as 110V.
  • Regulations and Legality: Stay informed of TSA regulations. Be sure to check with the State Department's website for any travel alerts, or warnings, concerning the specific countries you plan to visit, including any tech restrictions. Also, clear your devices of any content that may be considered illegal or questionable in other countries, and verify whether the location you are traveling to has restrictions on encrypted digital content.
  • Use hotel safes to protect your technology: Here's another place where there is an overlap between online safety and physical safety. Just like you would put your passport, jewelry, and money in a hotel safe, consider using that safe to hold your electronic devices when you are not carrying them with you. Not only are the devices themselves expensive to replace, your personal data contained in the device can be irreplaceable (especially if you skipped the first tip on this list).

Quick Tips:

  • Change your passwords or passphrases before you go. Consider using a password manager, such as LastPass® if you do not currently use one.
  • Delete apps you no longer use.
  • Update any software, including antivirus protection, to make sure you are running the most secure version available.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to avoid automatic connections.
  • Turn on device tracking and/or remote wiping options in case it is lost or stolen.

These guidelines are not foolproof, but every additional measure taken can help reduce the chances of cybertheft.