Travel Safe in the Digital Age

The growth of affordable airlines and global businesses in recent years has made jet-setting lifestyle a thing of the now. Traveling with several digital devices is also commonplace. At the same time, situations on the road can sometimes get unpredictable, and it’s always worth adopting healthy paranoia to ensure that both the gadgets as well as the traveler can return home safe and sound.

For me, I make sure to observe a few simple rules every time I travel.

Use Discreet Bags
Instead of choosing bags for aesthetic reasons, opt for a plain model to avoid unwanted attention. Also, make sure the material is sturdy enough to weather the journey and any attempts to pry it open. In my case, while my ultra-strong composite fabric carrier never wins any compliments from hipsters, it is not just water and cut proof, but also very functional. Similarly, I keep my mobile gadgets in old and beaten cases to make them look like they are way overdue for an upgrade, as new devices are highly targeted for their resale value.

Encrypt Your Devices and Avoid Open WiFi
It is estimated that less than half of the phones, and even fewer laptops, are encrypted globally. But there is really no excuse for not doing it since most modern operating systems have intuitive one-click encryption options, which doesn’t take a tech geek to turn on. That said, it’s possible to get hacked even with a strong encryption. WiFi Pineapple is one such platform. Cheap, easy to set up and allow anyone to execute a “man in the middle” attack to collect information passing through, WiFi Pineapple is like a regular hotspot that has been modified to execute network attacks. Therefore, get a local sim card the next time you travel. Most countries today have decent 3G or 4G networks.

Exercise Caution when Making Card Payments
The “man in the middle” attacks are also prevalent in credit card transactions. Although wireless payments are very convenient, they also allow thieves to perform undetected Near-field communication (NFC) micro-charges. It is also not uncommon for hackers to attach fake microchips on top of real ones to fake terminal transactions.

Actually, attacks are not always too technically sophisticated. I recall a time when I made a payment to a shop attendant in one of the less secured airports. He claimed that the closest terminal was in another store and disappeared with my card for a good 10 minutes. I only realised much later that he had charged extra expenses to my account. Luckily, the loss was not too high and could be written down as a “life experience lesson”.

Long story short – use cash or services like Uber, which can automatically charge to your preferred payment method.

Watch out when Entering Passwords
Surprisingly, even the most adept tech professional may be susceptible to simple tricks such as video recordings of one typing passwords on phones and laptops. All it takes is a password to a service such as email, and a door will be created for hackers to access other resources. Hence, if you have to work on the go, find a private corner and always use protective screens. Password aggregators can also make logins more convenient and secure.

Feel free to try out some of these rules the next time you hit the road. Combine them with some common sense, and your journey might become safer as well as more pleasant and productive.