Hints & Tips, Travel

Why Phone Security Matters Abroad

When leaving the country to travel abroad, everyone knows they need their passport. However, what is the next essential thing you make sure you have with you? Your smartphone probably. In the world of connectivity, instant messaging and sharing, you use your smartphone as an extension of yourself. It contains all the resources to stay connected to everyone, your personal details, your photos… and probably a lot of other sensitive information. When abroad, your smartphone becomes the ultimate travel companion; your navigator, your translator, your currency convertor.

However, how do you protect your phone when travelling abroad and why is it so important? Your phone is probably the single most valuable device you carry around; that could lead to a whole load of trouble if anything on it, including the device itself, fell into the wrong hands. Yet without leaving your device at home, which definitely sounds counterintuitive, what can be done to protect your data while you travel? Below are some of the ways you can protect your phone security abroad.

  1. Leave Your Phone at Home

Don’t do this really, we know you don’t want to, and with so many other good alternatives that will keep you secure, you really don’t need to.

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  1. Don’t Trust WiFi

Avoid free and public WiFi no matter the cost. WiFi in public spaces, restaurants and hotels are easy prey for anyone lurking waiting for naïve travelers to connect to. Potential network hackers could easily obtain your data if you’re not careful; this could be anything from monitoring your activity to stealing personal data that could lead to identity theft. To ensure your WiFi connection is safe and secure, get yourself a portable MiFi device.

  1. Use a VPN

As stated above, anyone on the same network as you, potentially a few hundred if you’re using public/ free WiFi, has the ability to intercept and grab your unencrypted data. To eliminate the risk of this, you can use a VPN. A virtual private network will protect you against hackers as it acts as your own personal shield – giving you a connection that only you have access to. It’s essentially your own private tunnel, away from the streams of others.

To use a VPN, you will need to download and install a VPN app onto your device, start it up once you’re connected to the internet and then choose a server. Although you will need to be connected to the internet (whether this be public or free), a VPN puts a protective shield around you and your data. Your data becomes encrypted, avoiding all the risks of open WiFi. Additionally, a VPN can also be helpful if you’re travelling to countries that may have blocked internet access. A VPN can change your IP address and allow access to sites such a Netflix.

  1. Switch SIM Cards

Opting to switch out your SIM will protect some of your data in the unfortunate case of theft or loss. Internal storage is safe if you back up your device before travelling, but we’ll get to this in a minute. Choosing to get another SIM, probably a local in-country SIM will give you a temporary phone number but the benefits speak for themselves; it protects your data, gets you cheaper call and roaming rates in-country and you could get one on a pay as you go basis. You also have choice, you could opt for a data only SIM or a voice only SIM, depending on what you need. You could also get a SIM card that works in a number of countries, one that can quickly change network providers so you always get the best possible connection. Doing this of course, will also avoid using un-trusted public WiFi.

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  1. Turn Off Roaming

Disabling your data roaming abroad will limit your data usage and may ease you while travelling; knowing that you won’t return home to a steep bill. From 2017, EU citizens can roam for no additional charges while in Europe, so if this is applies to you, you are safe to leave roaming on.

What is Roaming?

While abroad, your home network provider can’t travel with you, instead your connection will be run by a different, local, network operator. Partnering providers, your home operator, and the operator your device switches to abroad, will charge each other to cover the cost of ‘traffic’ for them having to support you. This will incur your home operator charging you this cost.

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  1. Back Everything Up Beforehand

Often an oversight to many travelers, make sure you back up your device prior to travelling. This is in case your phone does go missing, you can quickly restore a new, replacement device with all your stored details on. For example, you can restore from iCloud on an iPhone if needs be.

As a sub-point, make sure your device is running the latest software. Software updates usually include security enhancements and bug fixes, this will help reduce the chance of your connection being hacked. Also, give your device a passcode, preferably a long one; it’s better to be safe than sorry!

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  1. Take Action Against Theft & Loss

For all the power that phones bring us; connecting us to the world, keeping us productive, taking pictures etc, it’s often overlooked that they are small handheld devices. Easily misplaced or dropped or, worse case scenario; stolen. We’ve all been there when we go to grab our pockets and experience the ghost feeling if our phone is missing. This experience is only heightened when you travel, and for good reason, you’re in new atmosphere where you don’t know the place or the people.

  • Tell your Network Provider

The first thing to do if you’re phone goes walkabout is to call / text it. If it has just been lost, you might be lucky and find a kind stranger has found it. If this has happened then, voila you can get it back. If the persistent calling and texting doesn’t work, tell your network provider. They can then block your phone so you don’t risk paying for any unauthorized usage while it’s been out of your hands. They might ask you for your device’s identification number (IMEI) so they can track it, so make sure you take a note of it!

  • Track and Wipe Your Phone

After notifying your network provider and they’ve said they will block your SIM, it might be wise to remotely track and wipe your phone. Both Apple and Android give you the option to ‘Find My Phone’. If the phone is on, you will be able to see the exact location where your phone is. Unfortunately, if your phone is turned off, this won’t be available. On the latest iOS update for Apple users, there is an option to activate ‘Lost Mode’ through Find My iPhone, this feature will remotely lock your device. At a final resort, you should remotely wipe your device. You will be able to restore a replacement device up to your last back up.

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  • Change Your Passwords

Lastly, just for extra protection, change your passwords on important sites such as email, banking, and other apps, just for extra protection in case someone has been able to access your phone.