Traveling? These 7 iPhone Hacks Are Game Changers

Jillian Knox Finley

If you’re planning on jet-setting this summer, you need to get a handle on your tech. Identity theft and hacking pose real threats to personal data. Along with your bucket list of off-the-beaten-path destinations, we’ve got you covered on the digital front. We consulted expert Mika Devonshire for the lowdown on how to keep your devices bulletproof on the go. A former Princeton linguist and rising cybersecurity professional in the Washington, D.C., area, Devonshire most recently worked as a security analyst for an encrypted communications company on the cutting edge of data privacy and security. These are the hacks only the pros know.

Before You Leave Home

“You want to clean up your laptop, cell phone, and portable device prior to any travel,” says Devonshire. “Regularly clear your browser’s history, cache, and cookies. Do so especially before travel when you anticipate using public Wi-Fi.”

  • Clear stored usernames and passwords.
  • Remove any sensitive or personal data.
  • Delete any saved favorite sites that could expose personal information or browsing habits.
  • Delete any personal data, pictures, information, or work that could be used against you or you would not want exposed to the internet.
  • Remove any phone contact lists that could be stolen and made the target of fraud and phishing scams.
  • Turn off syncing services like iCloud and WorkGroups, as they will attempt to reconnect for the duration of your trip, revealing usernames and servers you are looking for.

At the Airport

“It’s nearly impossible to tell if the charging station is also accessing your phone’s data,” Devonshire tells us. “Now that there are phone-charging kiosks all over U.S. airports, you have to ask yourself—how secure are they?” Keep Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off to ensure you share less data with third parties and have more privacy.

During Travel

“You want to avoid using any foreign hardware or software when traveling abroad,” stresses Devonshire. Her musts:

  • Avoid plugging into public charging stations.
  • Turn off USB debugging or apps from unknown sources.
  • Buy a screen protector if you are working on sensitive documents.
  • Keep data separate from your laptop on an encrypted USB.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network, aka not connected using public wires).
  • If you need to connect to free Wi-Fi to establish a VPN, never download any agents or software in order to use the Wi-Fi.

Full Disk Encryption

If you want to be completely secure, Devonshire recommends investing in a Blackphone. Here’s why: “Blackphone is the only smartphone manufacturer that currently decouples the screen lock and device encryption passwords,” she tells us. If you own an iPhone, however, your device will come standard with a certain degree of built-in protection. “Nearly every smartphone lets you set a device decryption passcode,” says Devonshire. “This is the whole Apple encryption piece where the data at rest is inaccessible to the person who steals your phone. You can remote-wipe most stolen devices.”

Public Wi-Fi on Airlines and in Hotels

“It can be said in a million ways: If the Wi-Fi is free, you are the product,” says Devonshire. Data collection is at its easiest when connected to an unauthenticated network. “Captive portals (think hotspots) have the potential to leak your data, like other SSIDs, active network connections, and favorite websites, without you knowing it.”

According to Devonshire, hotel business centers and phone networks are regularly monitored in some countries. “Hotel rooms are often searched,” she tells us. “Your session on a public or free Wi-Fi network is the ideal target for eavesdropping. On an airline, all computers are synced up to the same virtual network, so if someone were to meddle, it would affect every person on the plane.”

What to Buy

When it comes to investing in tech-proof accessories, Devonshire has two key recommendations: wallets that block RFID (radio frequency identification, a service that can uniquely identify any object, including your credit cards), and encrypted call and text platforms. “If you are traveling abroad with a chip-and-pin credit card or a U.S. passport, those devices emit a radio frequency when coming into contacts with readers that attackers could misuse”—that rare pickpocket technique is called RFID skimming.

“For the cost of a month of Spotify, you could sign up for an encrypted call and text platform,” says Devonshire, who favors Signal, Silent Circle, Whisper Systems. “These work like Skype but guarantee your messages get there safely using end-to-end encryption so when you’re in another country, you do not need to worry about someone intercepting your calls or reading your texts.”

What to Do If You Get Stopped, Searched, or Detained

You can find a full list of the U.S. government travel advisories on its website. Research the electronic policies in play for any countries you might be visiting. “Always report an incident to the U.S. authority or your company’s legal team,” says Devonshire. “In addition to contacting your own legal department or personal lawyer, if your laptop or device is confiscated, make sure you know what’s on it.” Back up that data, people.

Now that you and your data are secure, where would you travel to next? Let us know and shop travel tech accessories below. 

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