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Connect with care when travelling


Juha Saarinen

Travel safely with your tech, for your own sake and everyone else's, writes Juha Saarinen.


You really, really have to connect to the internet to do something important. This is risky on an unknown network, so what can you do to keep the baddies out?

Adam Boileau of security consultancy Insomnia Security says the idea is to make it as inconvenient and slow as possible to get to your data, so that people will move to easier targets.

If you have to access important information, bring your own device that you have secured. If that's not possible, Boileau says only use internet cafes if you're desperate. Boileau describes internet cafe use as going to a brothel; even with protection, you'll worry afterwards that you caught something.

Bringing your own programs on a USB stick such as the free collection is a good start if you have to use an internet cafe, Boileau says. Better yet, enable two-factor authentication for your Gmail and Google Account.

This adds a second step to verify your identity by asking you to enter a random, changeable code as well as password. The code is sent via SMS or a recorded voice message and it's not possible to log in without it.

Since password and user name reminders for other services are sent via email, keeping it secure is very important. Two-factor authentication is found on the Google Accounts overview page and it's easy to set up with your mobile handy.

In your Gmail settings, look for the browser connection field and click on "Always use HTTPS". This means the hypertext transfer protocol "language" that your browser uses will always be in secure, encrypted mode when you go to Gmail.


Hooking up your own gear

You've decided to bring your own stuff, but before you connect those updated devices of yours with encrypted storage and defences such an anti-virus and a firewall running to the hotel free wi-fi, take some further precautions.

Continue the HTTPS theme: laptop users with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers can kick it up a notch with Electronic Frontier Foundation's HTTPS Everywhere plug-in which encrypts as much web traffic as possible.

You should be fairly safe by now, but if you want to take it further use a virtual private network or VPN. This software creates a strongly encrypted tunnel from your computer to another network of your choosing. It's great for when you use free or public wi-fi as nobody can then see your traffic and tamper with it.

VPNs used to be difficult to set up but nowadays, a provider such as Tunnelbear makes it simple and cheap and there's even an iPad app available. You end up trusting one tunnel provider instead of worrying about hundreds of wi-fi hotspots which makes life much easier.

By now, you'll be a tough nut to crack for baddies. "With my own device, two-factor authentication and a VPN, I'd be comfortable doing internet banking even," Boileau says.

Be less social

Social media can make travelling a richer experience, but some care is warranted. First, turn off the location features in Facebook, Twitter and web browsers, and don't check in with FourSquare and similar services.

Burglars use social media too but you may also want to keep your location overseas hidden from prying eyes there in case you offend anyone.

Never, ever attempt to crack a joke on social media about anything sensitive relating to the US – that's pretty much everything by the way. The Department of Homeland Security won't think it is funny and might deport you or throw you into Gitmo to rot. This goes for a raft of other countries, too, so save those racy, religious and political quips and complaints for later.

Expect delays

Finally, remember that travel means you could be uncontactable for several days if something happens, aboard a plane or out of mobile phone coverage.

During that time, an awful lot can happen like your bank account being raided and social media accounts being abused to send out hideous spam and malware to your friends – and you won't even know it.

Be prepared and travel safely, for your own sake and everyone else's.

Check list for safe tech travel

• Leave your laptop, smartphone and tablet at home if you can.

• Set up cloud-based accounts for your trip and delete them when you leave.

• If you bring your gear, encrypt the storage.

• New stuff is better, but update it often.

• Internet cafes are risky places.

• Use HTTPS, two-factor authentication and, if you can, a VPN.


  • Talk about missing the obvious. I travel regularly and I don't worry about being hacked. I have no personal details on either my iPhone or my laptop so I am not at risk. All you need do is reset your devices to factory (after backing them up) and you can travel risk free. They can't steal anything if there is nothing to steal. When I get back I do a restore and everything is back to normal. I have had the use of a phone ( with a local pre-paid sim that has a reasonable data allowance) and full use of my laptop with all its necessary software. Many notebooks take only seconds to swap out a hard drive, so it isn't too onerous to have one "home" and one "travel" drive that is set up with any software you think that you will really need.

    Terra Australis
    Date and time
    May 11, 2012, 10:53AM
    • Friends of mine who go traveling overseas usually buy a really cheap netbook to take with them. One that if it breaks or gets stolen it's not too much of a problem.
      Also: they make sure that there's no sensitive data on the machine at all, if a criminal steals your laptop, they could use some of that data to steal your identity etc.
      You also want to be especially careful of keyloggers at internet cafes, if you're traveling overseas and you log in to an internet cafe you should probably look at changing your password (once you're back on a more trusted connection) and more importantly, making sure your facebook/email password is completely different to any other password you use.

      Date and time
      May 11, 2012, 3:54PM
      • I think that is a great suggestion.I try not to take anything other than my kindle on holidays but as I buy fantastic android tablets for under $200 and still have several netbooks I could take one on holidays.

        Date and time
        May 12, 2012, 10:30AM
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