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Travel can expose you to risky systems, malicious hackers, and physical-world thieves. Take a few minutes to prepare before you hit the road.
Monday, October 9, 2023 - 12:00am

Imagine you’re about to hit the road for semester break, a research trip, or a well-earned vacation. Cybersecurity may be just about the last thing on your mind.

But if you plan to use your computer or other devices while traveling, take a few minutes to prepare. Travel can expose you to risky systems, malicious hackers, and physical-world thieves.

Here’s what you can do to stay safer.

Check for software updates

Ensure that your computer, phone, and other devices are running the latest software, including any security patches. Take the opportunity to check for updates even if you have automatic updates enabled.

Secure access to your devices

Make sure all your devices require a strong password (at least 12-15 characters, distinct from your other passwords) or biometric identifier (fingerprint or facial recognition) for access. This will help protect you if your device is stolen.

Use security software

Consider using programs that can identify and purge malicious software (malware) from your devices—see recommendations for free options. Other programs that track, lock, or erase stolen devices also are worth a look.

Beware of public Wi-Fi

Public networks can be vulnerable—don’t use them for financial transactions or other sensitive tasks. Consider VPNs or personal hotspots instead.

Use a VPN

Iowa travelers can use Cisco GlobalProtect (for university-managed devices) or AnyConnect (for personal devices) to access the web, including campus resources. Learn more about university-managed VPNs.

If you’re traveling abroad, note that export control policies may affect how you view or use university data via a VPN. Be sure to understand these policies, especially if you’re traveling for research or other university business.

Consider a personal hotspot

Your phone or a dedicated hotspot may offer an alternative to public Wi-Fi networks. Check your device and service plans to understand your options.

Make remote work arrangements as needed

If you’re an employee and your trip involves an extended period of remote work, submit a request to work remotely. Discuss your plans with your supervisor or local HR professional.

The work-arrangement review process can help you determine what resources you’ll need to work remotely.

Protect your physical devices

Phones, computers, and other hardware are attractive targets for pickpockets. Lock them up (along with passports or key travel documents), carry them in secure anti-theft bags, and never leave them unattended in public.

Follow other good practices

Use multifactor authentication to access university, bank, and other sensitive accounts. Stick to reliable, HTTPS-enabled websites (especially for financial or information transactions). Keep up your guard against phishing emails, social-media posts, texts, or direct messages.

Enjoy your trip

Don’t let a security breach or a theft spoil your trip. Exercise a little pre-planning, remain attuned to potential threats, and have a great time.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a government-industry partnership that aims to raise awareness and empower everyone to protect their personal data against digital crimes. Look for other cybersecurity tips throughout the month.