Nothing derails a business trip like a data breach. You should be networking at a happy hour and trying out your freshly-honed elevator pitch, but instead you’re in your hotel room, desperately trying to get a hold of your bank at home to cancel your cards. And once you manage to do so, you’re far from home without a usable credit card. Nothing deflates a productive trip faster.
Coordinating transit, language barriers, and the unfamiliarity of being in a new place on top of all your business tasks makes for enough travel anxiety already. A data breach shouldn’t have to be, but it’s not uncommon since hackers know that travelers make for easier targets prone to leave their digital back doors cracked more than they might at home.
Luckily, protecting your data abroad doesn’t require buckets of money and loads of time, but it’s important to go about it deliberately. Here are eight ways to make sure your data protection is the last thing you’re worrying about running between meetings.
1. Password protect everything
And we mean everything, without reusing any of your passwords. Put a pin on every device. The more digits, the better. In terms of your accounts, the best and easiest way is to select a password manager that works for you. Many of these applications will generate passwords out of a random jumble of characters and letters, which is always the safest option.
2. Turn off bluetooth connectivity
The best way to avoid “bluesnarfing”–– that’s what we call cyber attacks enabled by bluetooth connectivity and discoverability –– is to turn off bluetooth altogether. Attacks exploiting bluetooth vulnerabilities are surprisingly common and dangerous, as they enable hackers to tap into your photos, contacts, texts, and everything else you’d rather a complete stranger didn’t comb through. This protective measure can be tricky if your work abroad relies on bluetooth connectivity, but try to be mindful by turning it off during gaps in your schedule –– during dinner or while sleeping, for instance.
3. Avoid unprotected WiFi networks
The cozy coffee shop or swanky hotel lobby aren’t without their charms, but think twice before you plunk down and log into the free WiFi. The safest thing to do is to purchase your own wireless travel router. This doesn’t have to be a major investment: While there are high-powered routers out there at triple-digit prices, there are many reliable options for $75 or less. If you do opt for the public WiFi, make sure you use a VPN while doing so. Which brings us to…
4. Use a VPN
Sometimes logging into the unprotected wifi network at your hotel is unavoidable. We get it. It happens. The best thing to do in this case is to use a virtual private network (VPN). We recommend using one on private connections too –– better safe than sorry, and connecting to a VPN is one of the most reliable ways to protect your data, since a VPN creates an encrypted and private network exclusive to you. This means it masks your IP address and makes your online activity functionally untraceable. Plenty of free and paid VPN services exist, but make sure the VPN you choose is available wherever you’re traveling. Some VPNs include a feature that disconnects you from the WiFi network in the event the connection is interrupted. If your VPN has that feature, turn it on.
5. Avoid public computers
Internet cafes and public computers can quickly turn into a recipe for a data privacy disaster. But if you have to use one, keep an eye out for over-the-shoulder snoops, avoid anything that would require you to input payment details or banking information, and turn on private browsing. Once you’re finished, double-check that you’ve logged out of everything, clear your history and the download queue, and delete any downloaded files all the way out of the trash.
6. Encryption is everything
Depending on where you’re going, you might not be able to text normally or use your regular phone number. This isn’t a catastrophe, since there’s a whole market of VoIP apps. Pick one that can guarantee end-to-end encryption and, better yet, doesn’t sell your data. Don’t forget to encrypt your computer data if you’re bringing your laptop along for the ride. Both Microsoft and Apple have built-in encryption features for computers –– use them!
7. Consider using a different phone specifically for travel
That old phone lying around could have a jet-setting second life. Wipe it, then install the latest operating system and only the apps you’ll actually use on your trip. This way you won’t be bringing all the unprotected data that accumulates on your everyday phone along with you. It’s one less thing you have to worry about, especially if you happen to lose it.
8. Set up a travel email account
Don’t bring all that data in your primary email accounts with you. Keep that door shut and make a travel email. No need to ping everyone that you’ve done so if you include the address in your away message on your primary accounts, and set up mail forwarding as needed. This gives a potential hacker as little information as possible to steal –– bad for them, but good for you.
Business travel is stressful and data protection can be a lot to think about. But don’t let yourself get carried away. Be smart, not paranoid. No need to obsessively check your accounts or avoid printing an important document out of fear that you’ll be immediately hacked.
Data privacy and safety are about combining different strategies and, at the end of the day, just being mindful. Sometimes the best way to keep your data private is as simple as double checking that you’ve logged all the way out of your email. In other words, don’t get hung up on constant vigilance. But be realistic about your data protection needs, and you’ll be okay wherever you’re going.
Amir Ish-Shalom is the Vice President of Platform at Rakuten Viber and has 20 years of senior management experience. Ish-Shalom brings a unique knowledge of massive scale global deployments on the cloud and NoSQL technologies. He is also a public speaker and has been the keynote speaker at many conferences worldwide.
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