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Top Ten Travel Tips for Better Information Security

Travel map and compass.

By Christina Pomianek-Smith

Many in the WashU community will travel this summer, visiting friends and family, taking vacations, attending classes and summer programs, staking out new study abroad opportunities, conducting research, or meeting with colleagues. The long days of summer ahead provide time to rest, relax, and recharge while also renewing professional and academic pursuits through research, collaboration, and professional development.

Whatever the reason for your summer travels, please remember to do your part to keep your data and devices secure. The Office of Information Security’s (OIS) Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) team offers the following ten tips to help you stay safe this summer and all year.

Pack Smart (and Light)

  1. Leave devices you don’t need in a secure location (e.g., locked in your office desk at work; locked up in a safe at home). Each device contains valuable information such as contact lists, passwords, work files, emails, and more. Reduce the chance that your data will fall into the wrong hands through loss or theft by securing devices that contain sensitive information at home or work before leaving. Consider using a loaner laptop if you’re a faculty or staff member traveling for university business. Loaner laptops are encrypted to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to private or proprietary information.
  2. If you need to bring your device, offload unnecessary sensitive data before you leave. Upload files containing student, patient, financial, or personal information that you don’t need to WUSTLBox or OneDrive before leaving. Remember to remove the files from your device, double-check your downloads and documents folders for sensitive files and empty your device trashcan before your departure.
  3. Be sure your devices are encrypted by setting a passcode. Your devices should be encrypted at all times for your security, but it’s a good idea to double-check that you have your passcodes enabled before you travel.
  4. Treat the devices you do take with you as if they are valuable. They are—especially the data they contain! Don’t leave your devices unattended in plain sight anywhere, in your car, on the train, in the coffee shop, or even at your hotel continental breakfast table. Never “save your seat” using a device or expect strangers to watch the device for you while you’re away from your seat or table. Read more device security tips from the OIS in the Guidance section of our website!
  5. Make it easy to securely carry your devices on the go. Find a comfortable bag that closes with a zipper or a buckle. Avoid carrying your device by hand, which makes it too easy to set the device down and forget where you left it. Also, avoid offering thieves easy pickings— carry your devices in an antitheft bag (e.g., PacSafe) rather than in your pants pocket or a shoulder bag.

Connect and Charge with Caution

  1. Don’t connect to public Wi-Fi, whether traveling or on the go in your day-to-day. 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. Be sure to turn off “Wi-Fi auto-join” in your device settings to avoid unknowingly connecting to public Wi-Fi.  Instead, use a cellular network if you need to get online while traveling. Data transmitted through 5G, 4G, and 4G LTE connections are typically encrypted.
  2. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your connection. The VPN will shield your activity from cybercriminals and eavesdroppers. This is critically important if you need to access or transmit protected information (e.g., health information, banking information, credit card accounts).
  3. 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, 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. U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad should register with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

Be Aware of Travel Advisories

  1. 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 for help at infosec@wustl.edu .