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10 Security Tips for Spring-Break Travelers

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By Christina Pomianek-Smith

Spring Break is on the horizon, and many in the WashU community plan to travel for conferences, study away, research opportunities, and maybe even a little rest and relaxation! Smartphones and other digital devices are an integral part of our everyday lives, and they can make travel seem like a blissful dream. Helpful capabilities—your digital wallet of payment cards and boarding passes and apps for navigation, ride-hailing, take-out ordering, hotel booking, and more—make travel logistics easier than ever. Unfortunately, these helpful devices, full of the information you need while on the go, are also targets for theft and cybercrime.

The Office of Information Security is here to help you make smart security decisions, even when you’re far from campus. Below are ten tips to help you avoid enduring a travel nightmare!

Travel Light

  1. Leave the devices you don’t need at home. Do you really need your tablet, computer, and smartphone? Each of these probably contains your contacts, passwords, work files, emails, and more. Lighten your load and minimize the chance that a device will be lost or stolen by traveling with only what you need.
  2. If you plan to travel with your device, be sure to offload sensitive data before you leave. Don’t need your research files or grade book for this trip? Save your files in WUSTLBox or OneDrive before leaving and remove them from your device. Don’t forget to check your Downloads folder and Trash for files containing sensitive and protected information.
  3. If you’re a faculty or staff member traveling for university business, consider using a loaner laptop for travel. These devices are encrypted to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to private or proprietary information.

Practice Public Prudence

  1. Don’t connect to public WiFi. Data transmitted over public networks is often unencrypted and unsecured, leaving you vulnerable to “man-in-the-middle attacks” in which a cybercriminal intercepts your data.
  2. If you need to get online while traveling, use a cellular network. Data transferred through 5G, 4G, and 4G LTE connections are typically encrypted.
  3. Turn off WiFi and “WiFi auto-join” to avoid unknowingly connecting to a public network. If cellular coverage isn’t great where you are, your device might try to offload the connection to a public WiFi network, making your data visible to attackers.
  4. If public WiFi is your only option, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your WiFi connection. The VPN will shield your activity from cybercriminals and eavesdroppers, making your public connection private.
  5. Don’t charge your device at a public charging station. These stations may download malware to your device or steal your data. Bring a portable power bank for charging on the go.

Register Your Trip

  1. If you’re traveling for university business, be sure to register on MyTrips International Travel Registry. Doing so will allow the university to help you in case of a problem or emergency. Registration is required for faculty and staff requesting a loaner laptop.
  2. U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad should register with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Also, be sure to check the Department of State website for travel advisories and information about how your devices may be screened during a border control check.

If your device is lost, stolen, or compromised during travel, contact the Office of Information Security at infosec@wustl.edu.

Best wishes for a secure Spring Break!