Nine ways to stay cyber safe while travelling overseas

  • 16/05/2022
Nine ways to stay cyber safe while travelling overseas.
Is it safe to use the free Wi-Fi on bullet trains in Japan? Photo credit: Getty Images

If you're one of the many Kiwis planning an international holiday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, you'll find there's a massive amount of information to get to grips with.

But as well as brushing up the new airline rules and learning the entry requirements of every country you want to travel to, it pays to make sure you're up to date with how to keep safe wherever you are in the world.

That includes keeping your devices secure.

Cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to steal from us and sometimes a few simple actions could stop someone getting access to your device - and doing serious damage.

Alastair Miller, Principal Advisory Consultant at Aura Information Security, told Newshub there is a target on anyone's back when they're travelling abroad. 

"Cybercriminals greedily look upon international travel hubs swarming with people who don't know how to protect their devices. As we make the most of being able to explore the world again, we need to know how to best protect our tech," said Miller.

"The consequences can be devastating - from losing precious photos, to credit card details, to important personal information. In the worst cases, hackers can get access to work devices and from there they can completely shut down businesses. Not a good recipe for a relaxing holiday."

Miller has provided nine tips to stay cyber safe when travelling overseas. 

Don't take anything you don't need

We often use our mobile phone or laptop to store critical personal or work information. If you couldn't bear having your devices stolen, wiped or hacked, consider leaving them behind - that's the best way to eliminate any risk. You can easily pick up a simple 'burner' phone and local sim card to stay connected while travelling. Many workplaces now have policies around travelling with devices as well. So before you pack the work laptop, check in with your employer on what the rules are.  

Avoid using public Wi-Fi

Whether it's at the airport, in a hotel, at a café, or even public street Wi-Fi - there are risks tapping into third party Wi-Fi networks. Some wireless networks may use older standards for encryption which are easily susceptible to being hacked. Similarly, you might inadvertently connect to a scam network set up to gain access to your device or spread malware. A better option is to plan ahead and buy a data roaming package before you depart. It may be more expensive, but it could protect your devices from malware and other attacks. Sometimes using public Wi-Fi is unavoidable though, this is where the next point may be useful.  

Use a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN)

If connecting to the Wi-Fi is unavoidable, consider using a secure VPN. A VPN helps protect your privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. This prevents any bad actors from accessing your private information or connection. 

Avoid using public charging stations for your phone

Be wary of USB public charging stations at airports and hotels. Security researchers believe that some public charging stations could easily be compromised. This is called juice jacking; hackers modify charging stations with hardware designed to install malware on your phone or tablet. Just plugging into a compromised charging station could infect your phone. A better option is to take a portable power bank with you, a bonus of this is you can keep your devices charged on the go.

Keep your eyes on your device

This may seem simple, but it's a rule not often followed: log off your device whenever you step away from it, even if only for a moment. Whether you're in the Koru Lounge and want to grab some food, or popping to the bathroom on a plane, if you leave your laptop open a stranger can do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time. All they need is to plug in and accept a malware loaded USB drive. It's important to keep in mind risks are much greater if you're using a work device. Whether you're scanning emails while on holiday or at a work conference, the last thing you want is to give a cyber-criminal access to your company's files when it could have been easily prevented.

Don't share your device with others

If someone asks you to use your phone to make a call or check an email, be wary, especially if you don't know them well. While it might feel impolite to say no, you never know how they might use it for. As mentioned, a stranger can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. 

Back up files before you go

It's a good idea to back up your files, photos and apps before you go - if your device gets compromised or stolen you could lose everything. Use a cloud service like SharePoint or Google Drive, or back up to your PC or an external hard drive. Don't forget to keep loading your travel photos and videos to cloud storage as you travel in case something happens to your device.  

Be careful about what you post on social media

Don't share photos on social media of important documents such as passports or airline tickets. An alarming number of people inadvertently share far too much personal information by taking a snap of their travel documents in their pre-trip excitement. These documents contain some sensitive information that can easily be used for identity fraud, the last thing you want before a big trip! 

Be aware of local rules and regulations

It pays to understand that some countries may not follow the same privacy protections as New Zealand does - in some countries, it's not uncommon for your devices to be searched and seized. If you're unfamiliar with the local rules and laws, doing some quick research before you go could prove very useful. Delete anything that might be unacceptable in that country, such as political content. 


Making sure you have all the correct cyber security measures in place may seem like a daunting task, but a few simple watch outs could save you from getting caught out the next time you travel.