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(2017 - Fall/Winter Issue)


Identity theft is possible when using a mobile device, a threat that seems to grow more menacing by the day. Anywhere you are—at home or abroad—be cautious and be cyber aware.

Connecting wirelessly is a welcomed gift. Around the world, the offer of Wi-Fi can be found in coffee shops, hotels, airports and other public places, usually for free. Be cautious, however. Venturing into this realm of bombarding signals is a bit like a lamb venturing into the wilds of jungle law. Aggressors lie in wait to target, compromise and steal your data. You may be safe one minute but not the next, so if you must use the internet when taking a trip  be sure to activate the pertinent security settings on your device and then plan ahead with steps to outsmart the trolls and opportunists.


One method gaining in popularity, for instance, is the VPN. A Virtual Private Network employs encryption to give your mobile devices secure access to the internet. Once a VPN service is downloaded, the encryption sets up a powerful roadblock between your data and any perpetrator. Smooth functioning may require setting adjustments but such specialized coding is designed to shield your cyber activity, hide your physical location, IP address and financial transactions, and protect you from corporate selling, government surveillance, and internet censorship in autocratic regimes. If you do install a VPN service, be sure to find out first if the country you’re visiting allows it.

According to a poll conducted by the popular NordVPN.com, too many of us still don’t take online security seriously enough. People on-the-go are either unaware of the increased exposure or they’re willing to take a calculated risk. Cellphones and laptops are handy travel tools but a measure of stepped-up security is advised if you plan to use your phone or laptop in a Wi-Fi zone; search for maps and directions; make purchases or money transactions; access streaming; or communicate with locals or friends back home. Beware, as well, when using third-party computers such as those offered in airport lounges and in hotel business centres. It doesn’t take much for fraudsters to compromise that equipment for the purpose of lifting a steady stream of private information. 


Even so, data theft is just one-half of the risk in an unknown environment; the actual theft of one’s device is the other. While governments around the world are still sorting out how to protect us better, Canadians can get some guidance from Ottawa in a posting called Cyber Security While Travelling found at travel.gc.ca. Start by putting a checkmark on the three most important steps to take—and then add a few more protections for good measure—even if the trek with your device is just down the road:

•          Wi-Fi: In public hotspots, don’t log on to a wireless connection before confirming its safety. Some connections are tainted but are made to look trustworthy. For example, perpetrators might change the name of the actual HotelABCInternet to a fraudulent SecureHotelABCInternet. Sometimes they change just one letter. Double-check network names with the establishment—and best rule-of-thumb: never transmit information that could be read by any outsider.

•          Bluetooth: This technology involves the free flow of data between two devices with little or no user confirmation. Bluetooth allows, therefore, other networks to connect without authorization. Disable it while travelling to prevent unwanted connection attempts. If you must use Bluetooth, disable it afterwards each time.

•          Public computing: Always be skeptical about the security of unfamiliar devices and networks. Publicly used equipment could be loaded with covert software designed to steal personal information. Use those resources with the assumption that any information you enter could be seen by an unauthorized third party.


•          Always use a password to access the data on your device, and if available, enable the option to erase all data when the password is entered incorrectly 10 times.

•          Be aware of your surroundings and who might be able to view your screen.

•          Disable the Wi-Fi connection when not using it.

•          Avoid charging your device on public docking stations, which could transfer malicious intent.

•          Protect your tablet/laptop data by installing up-to-date anti-virus software, spyware protection, operating system security patches, and a personal firewall. Set the web browser to the highest security setting possible and ensure that any other user cannot disable these features.

•          Never use an unknown USB flash drive (storage device), which could carry malicious intent. Same with unknown CDs and DVDs.

•          Don’t let your device out of your sight for any purpose. Find out if your airline of choice will let you keep devices in your carry-on bag.

•          Never lend your phone to a stranger for a quick “emergency” call.

•          Research anti-theft options such as locking your phone remotely.

•          Write your name into the screensaver of mobile devices so, if lost, they can be returned.

•          Lock up valuable electronic equipment in the hotel safe. The good hiding spots are likely common knowledge.

•          Learn about the laws governing intellectual property, digital information, and the use of encryption in the countries you plan to visit. The Canada-based embassy or consulate of those countries is a good place to begin. For example, certain entertainment data on your laptop might be legal in one place but not in another. Furthermore, these restrictions may extend beyond the data to the hardware, and to the format in which it is stored. Wherever you travel, the border agents are entitled to search and seize your property.

•          Keep up with advancements, such as making your data unreadable to third parties with VPN software. VPNs are available commercially and easily downloaded. As mentioned above, some countries limit the use of this encryption technology. Find out which countries do and don’t at wassenaar.org.

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