Hints & Tips, Travel

Using your phone in China: A precautionary guide

In wake of recent months and controversies surrounding privacy breaches abroad, those with planned trips to places such as China are rightly slightly hesitant. On January 3rd 2019, the US State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for traveling to China. This means those entering China should Exercise Increased Caution, due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws.

In exercising increased caution, travelers should extend diligence to the use of mobile and tech devices when entering the country. Cellhire previously published a blog on Why Phone Security Matters Abroad, but the rumor-mill has suggested those travelling to China are highly at risk of being monitored. Here are precautions you should be taking to avoid potential risks.

  1. Leave your devices at home

There have been stories of devices being confiscated and tampered with while going through customs in a range of countries, but if you’re worried about possible infringement on your privacy and data, it may be a better option to leave your devices at home. Understandably, this may be easier for those travelling to China for leisure rather than for business. Business travelers partaking in business events and meetings in China are in need of a device to some extent so have no choice other than to take something with them. In this case, don’t worry, there are other precautions to take.

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  1. Prepare your devices for travel

If you’re taking devices to China, make sure you’ve ‘prepared’ them. Remember your devices contain valuable data, information and in some case, intellectual property. The last thing you want is spying eyes getting a hold of your information. When traveling, all this stored data becomes vulnerable, so ‘preparing’ your device for the worst is imperative. Update the operating system to the latest version; this will help fill in those potential security gaps that could be hacked. Also, ensure your Bluetooth is turned off whilst travelling. This, again, eliminates possible eavesdropping entries.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, safeguard your devices with a complex password / PIN that can’t be easily guessed or hacked. For extra protection, put a 2-factor authentication on anything that lets you.

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  1. Cleanse your devices

If adding a password to your devices isn’t enough to put you at ease, try cleansing your device of all unnecessary data you don’t need while traveling. Move all your data over to an external source that you can leave at home while you travel. It’s better to always travel with a ‘blank’ device, so there is nothing to lose once you enter China. You should also cleanse and wipe your device upon re-entering your home country, in case any of your devices have been compromised while out of the country.

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  1. Use a rented device / SIM

The best solution for those traveling to a country in which they need to exercise caution, is to travel with a rented device / SIM. If you’re hesitant to take your own device out of fear or losing your data, take a device that is blank and will allow peace of mind. Get a device that is already set up to work in-country, with a local SIM card. This will not only keep your personal device safe, but will also allow you to browse online, call and text for the best possible rate. If this is something you opt for, purchase these before traveling. If you purchase a device in the country you travel to, like the airport, not only are you risking having an already compromised device / SIM, but you are also likely to spend more than it’s worth. As an alternative, Cellhire can offer both in country SIMs and devices depending on your needs and requirements. Cellhire was the recommended alternative to taking personal devices on a recent segment of Bloomberg’s Daybreak Asia, as advised by the VP of Park Strategies.

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  1. Use a VPN

It’s well known that some countries block access to specific sites; China especially. Say goodbye to Gmail, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia etc, because it’s likely you won’t be able to access them. To avoid this, you can use a VPN to create your own private internet connection that only you can access. This is definitely a must if you’re away for business and need to access your company information or intranet, especially as China is renowned for controversies surrounding monitoring internet traffic and blocking.

Be warned however, as of 2018, China is cracking down on the use of VPNs. Those who wish to use a VPN should look at several options, in case their primary option is blocked. TechRadar has recently produced a helpful article reviewing the top VPNs to use when traveling to China.

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