How to Protect and Secure Your Mobile Devices While Traveling

Oct 7, 2017

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There are more than eight billion smartphones and mobile devices in the world, making them the most popular computer system on the planet. But despite their diminutive size, mobile devices are both extremely powerful and extremely personal. As such, it’s worth learning how to best protect and secure those devices — and our most precious data — from being hacked. Here are some of the changes we can make to better secure our most valuable computers.

1. Use Virtual Private Network (VPN) Software

Most of us use Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops and hotels to go online, but because any public Wi-Fi hotspot is a potential target for hacking, we need an extra layer of security. Using VPN software provides that increased security along with extra privacy. Additionally, for travelers headed to China, using a VPN is the only way to get around “The Great Firewall.” The best VPN companies don’t keep logs and aren’t headquartered in the United States, but offer strong data encryption, provide a free trial or money-back guarantee, support all desktop and mobile device operating systems and cost no more than $10 per month. Based on the research I did for my technology book, I’d recommend the following companies:

After installing VPN software on our mobile devices, you can set them to automatically connect to a server and country of your choice.

2. Use Safer Web Browsers

It’s important to remember that surfing the web leaves an easily-captured digital trail of trackers, cookies and browsing history, so it’s imperative to only use secure mobile browsers on all your mobile devices. While the newest versions of Safari for iOS and MacOS are engineered to prevent tracking us online, there are other mobile web browsers known for security.

  • Red Onion browser for iOS ($1.99) and OrBot for Android (free!) utilize the Tor network — even the highly-secretive NSA considers Tor to be “the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity.” It works by encrypting your data and bouncing it through a network of relay servers — there are thousands worldwide — before reaching its final destination.
  • Brave — available on iOS and Android OS — is a new browser that’s becoming a favorite of security professionals. With the flick of a button, it allows users to surf without being tracked. Plus, it’s wicked fast and 100% free. #LoveThat

3. Have A Plan For Law Enforcement

Travelers should be prepared to respond to those demanding access to our mobile devices, both in foreign countries as well as here in the US. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), when re-entering the US, border agents are legally permitted to search our electronic devices, even if there’s no reason to think that we’ve committed a crime. Still, it’s worth knowing how to prepare. Here’s our mobile device strategy for traveling.

  • Disable biometric access on your devices, including fingerprint and face scanners, as border agents can legally request you use your fingerprints or face to unlock your mobile device.
  • Encrypt all devices and use long, alphanumeric passwords to unlock them, since border agents cannot legally force you to surrender your passwords. To learn how to activate longer passwords on iOS, click here; for doing the same on Android devices, click here.
  • Consider purchasing a travel phone to be used only when traveling. Never place your most personal information on your travel phone.
  • If forced to travel with day-to-day technology, back them up fully prior to traveling. Then, before reaching border patrol, erase your devices — you can easily restore them from backup at home.

4. Disable All Network Access Unless Needed

Our mobile devices are designed to be extremely open to help connect us easily to the world, and while that level of openness is rarely required, it’s something that hackers try to exploit. Consider disabling any network protocol on your phone unless it’s absolutely essential.

  • Turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirDrop on all your mobile devices. Doing so not only shuts down ways for hackers to attack your device, but also saves battery life. Activate those services only when necessary and deactivate them when not in use.
  • Power down your device or activate Airplane Mode. Just because you’re not using your mobile device doesn’t mean it isn’t a target, and one of the best ways to prevent remote hacking on your devices is to turn them off. If you prefer not to, activate Airplane Mode to shut down many of the networked services.

5. Use Apple Devices

I’m sure I’ll get some flack for this, but the data doesn’t lie. It’s estimated that 99% of all mobile malware is targeted at Google’s Android operating system — quite a remarkable and damning statistic. Like it or not, given that hackers have focused on Android, using an Apple mobile device is a simple way to avoid most of the world’s mobile malware.

Have any suggestions of your own to share? Let us know in the comments, below.

Featured image by Neonbrand / Unsplash.

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