How to Keep Your Data Safe When Traveling Abroad


Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Traveling with technology is always a little daunting, but it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier. Whether it’s a ban on electronic devices like laptops when flying to certain countries, heightened screening procedures that require the removal of nearly all electronics from your bags, or border patrol agents demanding your personal information to search your phone, taking proper steps to secure your personal data has never been more important.

Lucky for you, it’s also never been more convenient to secure your digital info. Apps are freely available that let you mask your most important information; privacy-centered operating systems can protect your browsing habits; and ditching your data temporarily is as simple as using a web app.

Use a thumb drive operating system

Portable operating systems aren’t new, but if you’re security-conscious you’ll be glad you brought one with you. A portable operating system means you can leave your primary laptop at home, along with any data you want to keep from prying eyes, and turn any computer around into your own secure workstation without leaving a trace.

You can stick any number of portable operating systems on a thumb drive, with some taking up as little as 100MB of space, though traveling abroad might require a more privacy-oriented OS. NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden famously uses Tails, a portable operating system tailor-made for privacy above all else. It comes preloaded with encryption tools like OpenPGP to protect your documents, HTTPS Everywhere to secure your web traffic, and Tor to anonymize your presence online.

Though Tails may focus on keeping you anonymous, it isn’t infallible. It won’t protect you from every threat, and provides a list of potential factors that could compromise your security.

Ditch fingerprint unlocking

The convenience of using your fingerprint to unlock your phone can’t be beat, but it’s a bad habit to fall into if you want to keep your personal information secure, especially from law enforcement. While police cannot force you to enter your password or PIN to unlock your phone, rulings in the past few years have compelled people under investigation by law enforcement to unlock devices if fingerprint unlocking is enabled.

Get (or make) a burner phone

Your phone contains just as much personal information as your laptop—if not more—so securing your mobile device should be a top priority. Of course, you could always leave your main phone at home and make your own burner phone. It’s not as hard as you might think to turn an old smartphone into a burner phone that gives you access to the basics while protecting your personal effects from snooping airport security. Apps like Hushed and Burner allow you to generate temporary phone numbers for calling and texting, and VPN apps like Hideman and CyberGhost can be installed on your iOS and Android phones to protect your browsing data when using unfamiliar networks.

Secure your passwords

Using a password manager is a great way to keep data stored securely, but it’s also a treasure trove of personal information. You can use password manager apps like KeepassX and 1Password to further protect your data. Agile Bits, creator of 1Password, recently added a Travel Abroad feature (for cloud subscribers only) that removes all nonessential info stored within from your devices. You can mark which pieces of information you’d like to keep on your device while the rest will be wiped and stored in your cloud-based database.



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