Travel Tips

Be a Secure Traveler

Whether you’re planning your summer holiday or travelling for work, it’s important to be aware of cybersecurity threats that can target your devices while on the go and abroad. From backing up your devices before you go, to avoiding public Wi-Fi and disabling automatic logins, there are a host of guidelines and tips you can follow so that you can travel with ease. We’ve assembled a few of the top ones for you.

1. Know the rules of your host country

Privacy and legal rights vary from place to place, so research your destination before you get there. Some foreign governments have been known to monitor phone calls, prohibit the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), and filter or block access to certain websites, including Gmail and Google Apps. Do not attempt to bypass these internet suppression measures, as that could lead to serious consequences such as confiscation of your devices or criminal charges.

Some travellers have been ordered by customs and border officials to unlock their phones and laptops, provide encryption keys, sign into social media accounts, and allow their digital content to be copied. Refusing to comply with these demands can incur strict penalties against you.

It may be more of a risk to refuse and suffer that country's respective sanction than to reveal or relinquish your information and devices.

2. Backup your devices before you go

The consequences of losing your device or having it stolen are increased when you travel abroad and are in places unfamiliar to you. As such, make sure that you have recent backups of your important data either on another device separate from the one you are travelling with or to a cloud storage program.

3. Your device may be searched or confiscated

Expect that your device(s) may be searched or confiscated by customs/border agents and law enforcement, so prepare and travel with them accordingly.

Do not store any information or contents on your device that will cause issues or harm if disclosed to, or accessed by, customs agents or law enforcement.

When traveling to jurisdictions that pose a high risk of device search or confiscation, consider traveling with temporary/ loaner devices and not your regular devices that store data and information you do not want accessed or lost.

4. Use caution accessing sensitive or confidential information while travelling

If you need this information while traveling, access it instead through secure, remote means, such as a department/faculty based file-share or your U of A Google Drive. Connect to either through the university VPN.

If you need to save or work on such a file locally and temporarily while traveling, ensure the file is purged from the local device after it is uploaded or saved to a secure, remote repository, such as a department/faculty based file-share or your U of A Google Drive. Remember: always backup your information.

5. Disable automatic login

Configure the accounts on your mobile device (such as email and social media sites) to not automatically login. That way, if an external authority/party gains access to your device, they do not have immediate and easy access to your information.

6. Encrypt and password-protect everything

Every mobile device should be encrypted and password-protected. A secure password is at least eight to ten characters long and consists of a mix of numbers, special characters, and upper and lowercase letters. Learn more about encryption.

And whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication of multi-factor authentication on your devices and apps. (Note: this is a requirement for faculty and staff logging into university applications).

7. Disable Bluetooth and avoid public Wi-Fi

While Bluetooth is convenient, it also allows nearby devices to connect and communicate with your device, which can cause trouble. Not only does disabling it extend your battery life, it can reduce your vulnerability to potential cybersecurity threats like hackers accessing your device without you knowing.

Like Bluetooth, automatic Wi-Fi connectivity can pose problems. Public Wi-Fi networks are not always secure and don’t require authentication, giving anyone the ability to access it, including cyber criminals. They can put themselves between you and the connection point, gaining access to the data you’re sending into the hotspot. If you have to use public Wi-Fi, activate a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for that extra layer of protection, as it hides your IP address and activities.

8. Follow mobile computing best practices

Ensure you're following the university's guidelines for mobile device security. Learn more about mobile security best practices.

9. Consider wiping your devices when you return home

Consider wiping your device upon your return in order to mitigate the risk that some unauthorized programs or malware were installed during your travels. It might seem like a hassle, but it may help you in the longer run by adding that extra, just in case, layer of protection.

For even more tips on how to say cybersafe while travelling, check out the Government of Canada’s website for more ways to be a secure traveller.