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Security & Privacy

Protecting your privacy and security on the road

The world is opening up and summer is here. It’s time to travel again! But before you jump on a plane or fill up your tank for a road trip, consider your tech privacy and security while traveling.

Prying eyes would love to get into your laptop or phone. Here are some tips to make sure you stay safe and secure while traveling.

padlock on a laptop screen

Get a privacy screen

The person in the middle seat next to you on the plane is working on a confidential presentation or reviewing confidential financials, seemingly oblivious to their two seatmates. You shake your head, wondering how they can be so careless. Yet, what do you do to protect your screen in a similar situation?

An inexpensive physical solution is a privacy screen. Laptop and mobile device privacy screens make it possible for you to see the screen when looking straight at it but blur out the screen for anyone viewing at an angle, like the person sitting in the seat next to you on the plane or at a conference.

Privacy screens require you to install adhesive tabs to slide the screen into, or the screen has a reusable adhesive, kind of like sticking a Post-It note on your screen.

There are also high-tech solutions to “shoulder surfing”. Dell recently introduced laptops that use the webcam to look for anyone peeking over your shoulder and if someone is detected, the computer blurs out the screen.

Block your webcam

You should block your webcam from unauthorized viewing, whether you’re traveling or not. It’s especially important when you travel because you’re probably using less-safe networks, which gives people a better chance to hack into your webcam.

There are a couple of ways to block your webcam from potential hackers.

Some computers come with a physical webcam blocker installed. You can just slide it to the side when you aren’t using your webcam. If your computer didn’t come with one,  for just a few dollars you can purchase blockers that stick on your laptop. And if you want to go even cheaper, just stick a Post-It or tape over your webcam when not in use. Even Mark Zuckerberg does that.

Chicken on laptop using WiFi

Be wary of public WiFi networks

Surfing the web over public WiFi opens you up to lots of possible intrusions. Few of these networks are truly secure, even if they require you to log in or use a password. This goes for hotel networks, networks at vacation rentals or airport lounges, etc. 

There are two things you can do to protect yourself here. First, consider using your mobile phone’s hotspot instead of public networks. 

Second, use a VPN. A VPN encrypts the data you’re sending over the Internet, making it less likely to be compromised. 

Using a VPN is critical on public WiFi, but you should also consider using one if you connect through your phone’s hotspot.

Oh, and using a public computer to log into a sensitive account is a big no-no. Shared computers at Internet cafes and libraries should only be used in emergencies.

Think before you browse

Any time you log into a website, you’re opening yourself up to risk. Your device could have a keylogger or another system could capture your login details.

For this reason, ask yourself, “Do I really need to log into this website while traveling?”

There are times you need to log into your bank account and other sensitive sites while traveling. But it’s safer to do that on your home network, so see if you can delay until you return home. Also, consider accessing these accounts through your phone rather than a laptop if it means you’ll connect over the cellular network’s Internet.

Watch out for hostile governments

Neighbors and hackers trying to steal your information are one thing, but you might also have to watch out for government snooping.

Some countries are known for snooping through whatever they can get their hands on while traveling. Some people will be bigger targets than others for this sort of espionage, but everyone should take precautions.

If you’re traveling to a country known for snooping, consider leaving your main computer and phone at home. Bring “clean” devices that don’t contain private information. And don’t log into any sensitive websites while on the Internet in these countries.

If you use the 1Password password manager, activate travel mode when you’re crossing borders. This will hide your password vaults from inspectors.

laptop in a safe

Lock up your tech or bring it with you

In an ideal world, you can bring your technology with you and not leave it out of sight. This is easy with a cell phone but lugging around a laptop might not be possible. 

If you must leave your technology in the hotel room, be sure to lock it in the hotel’s safe. This won’t necessarily keep it safe; hostile governments and hotel employees could still gain access to it. But it will make it harder for them and petty criminals alike. 

Update your technology

There’s a constant game of cat and mouse between hackers and software companies. Hackers find a bug and try to exploit it before the companies patch their technology. 

If you want to be scared into taking security precautions, read Nicole Peroth’s book This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends. It explains how hackers sell exploits to governments and other people who are up to no good.

Companies like Apple rush to patch iOS, and browser companies push out fixes when they learn about exploits. But they’re only helpful if you’re running the latest software version.

So before you travel, make sure to check for software updates on your phone, browser, and any other software you use.

Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to back up your device before traveling.

Watch where you charge your phone

When your phone’s charger goes into the red zone, you probably rush to find the nearest charger.

But hold on for a second. Plugging into a shared USB charger can be a mistake. In addition to charging your phone, it could steal the data off of it.

This goes for that charger block in your hotel room, too. It’s convenient that hotels are starting to offer USB-charging devices, but you don’t know if someone has installed malicious hardware on one of these devices to slurp up your data.

instead, bring your own charger with an AC adapter that plugs directly into an outlet, and only use ones you provide yourself.

Eye spy a camera

Cameras are becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous. Doorbells have cameras. Security lights have cameras. For under $50, anyone can install a camera and start recording people without their knowledge.

This has become a problem in vacation rental properties. When you check into your rental, take a look around and see if there are cameras in private areas. While a camera on the outside of a property is no big deal, some vacation rental homeowners have installed these indoor areas where you might feel a sense of privacy. 

Be smart and be safe

Staying safe and protecting your private information while traveling doesn’t need to be a huge burden. Once you set up best practices, such as using a VPN, it’s relatively easy to replicate these on your next trip.

So take an hour or two to set up a traveling game plan. It will give you peace of mind.

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Andrew Allemann avatar

Andrew Allemann

Andrew is the founder and editor of Domain Name Wire, a publication that has been covering domain names since 2005. He has personally written over 10,000 posts covering domain name sales, policy, and strategies for domain name owners. Andrew has been quoted in stories about domain names in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and Fortune. More articles written by Andrew.

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