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Travel safely with your tech: How to prevent theft, loss and snooping on the road

Chris Hoffman | Dec. 19, 2014
When you travel, a whole fleet of electronics come with you. Smartphone and laptop are a given, but there's a good chance you're also toting a tablet, and maybe a cellular hotspot or dedicated GPS.

When you travel, a whole fleet of electronics come with you. Smartphone and laptop are a given, but there's a good chance you're also toting a tablet, and maybe a cellular hotspot or dedicated GPS.

All of them are juicy targets for bad guys. Here's how to make sure your devices' travels are just as safe as your own.

Protect yourself on public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are essential. They're like an oasis in the disconnected desert when you run into their blessed signal in coffee shops, airports, or even public parks. But wide-open Wi-Fi hotspots can also be dangerous.

Using a VPN on public Wi-Fi hotspots will prevent snooping. If you're connected to a malicious WI-Fi hotspot that attempts to funnel you to fake phishing sites, the VPN will bypass all that junk and allow you to browse normally.

Businesses often require their employees to use a VPN while traveling, but everyday consumers can pay a few bucks a month for a service and get the same security benefits. Be sure to choose and set up a VPN ahead of time. 

Lock everything tight

Many people like setting their laptops and PCs to log them in automatically, bypassing the need to input a password. That's something you'll want to change when you hit the road.

Set a decent password — not "password" or "letmein" — on your laptop and have it prompt you at boot. (Here's how to change your password in Windows 7 and Windows 8.) Ensure your laptop is set to ask for the password when it wakes from sleep or hibernate mode, too — this will thwart opportunistic snoopers and also make more trouble for thieves.

The same goes for smartphones and tablets. Be sure to set up a PIN, pattern lock, or some authentication you have to enter when you turn on your device or awaken it. (Here's how to do so on Android and iOS.) 

Track your tech

Be sure to set up device-tracking, remote-locking, and remote-wiping features ahead of time, too. This is easy on most smartphones and tablets. Android phones and tablets offer integrated tracking via Google's Android Device Manager, and Apple's iPhones, iPads, and Macs offer integrated tracking via Find My iPhone in iCloud. Windows Phones offer integrated tracking, too.

Enable this feature on your mobile devices ahead of time. Also take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the web-based interface for tracking your devices. Features like remote wiping may not be enabled by default, so you'll want to check those as well.

Tracking is tougher with computers. Windows laptops, Chromebooks, and Linux PCs don't come with anything built-in. You may want to install PC-tracking software like Prey Anti-theft, which has a free version and is available for Windows, Linux, and Macs.

 

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