June 5, 2023

More and more Canadians are travelling with electronic devices such as phones, tablets and laptops. Unfortunately, when you are travelling you can be more at risk of cyber-based threats, and your devices can easily be compromised or stolen.

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Using Wi-Fi

You can connect your devices to the Internet at wireless access points, sometimes free of charge, at coffee shops, in hotels or at airports during your travels. These highly unsecure public Wi-Fi networks are accessible to everyone. They are easily hacked because they don’t require authentication for users to connect and they may use weak encryption protocols.

People intending to steal identities and personal information may establish free Internet access points that are made to look trustworthy. They can name an access point or Wi-Fi network anything, even mimicking or adding a single letter to the name of a trusted network. When you connect to their system, you open your devices to attack. Be sure to confirm the name of any Internet connection before you log on.

Any information that you send over an unknown network could be intercepted. Avoid logging into sensitive accounts (like your bank account) or sending sensitive information that you wouldn’t want other people to know.

Using shared or public computers

A keylogger is type of a malware commonly used to steal personal information. Keyloggers are hidden software applications or physical devices attached to computers that capture any information that is entered into a device. To protect yourself from keyloggers:

  • Always be skeptical of the security of an unfamiliar network or device.
  • When using free computers or networks, assume that any information you enter could be seen by someone else.
  • If you are using shared or public computers, don’t use the “remember me” feature when you are logging into your accounts. Remember to log out of your accounts when you’re done.

Using Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a technology that enables a short-range radio frequency connection between two devices and allows you to make hands-free phone calls while driving. With Bluetooth, users have to allow another device to connect to their device before an exchange of data can take place. Once this connection is made, data can flow freely between the two devices with little or no user confirmation. 

Be careful when pairing devices to Bluetooth-enabled cars. When you pair your device with a car, your personal information is stored on the car’s system. It’s best to not pair devices with rental cars, but if you do, make sure you delete any stored data and remove your device from the rental car’s paired device list.

Be cautious in managing your device’s Bluetooth connections or allowing access to your devices via Bluetooth. Check the networking capabilities of the Bluetooth settings of your devices:

  • Some devices allow for automatic connection, meaning that other Bluetooth networks can connect to your device without authorization.
  • Disable your Bluetooth networking while you are travelling to prevent unwanted connection attempts.
  • Remove lost or stolen devices from your paired devices list.

Tips to stay cyber safe while travelling

Before you go

  • Update your anti-virus software.
  • Install a firewall on your device.
  • Update patches that may be required by your computer operating system and applications.
  • Ensure you have all the software and hardware you need so that you don’t have to buy any in another country.
  • Lock your device with a PIN, passphrase, or password.
  • Use multi-factor authentication on devices, applications, and accounts to add an extra layer of security.
  • Some devices have an option that will erase all data if the password is entered incorrectly 10 times. Enable this option so that if you lose the device, that’s all you’ll lose.
  • Some devices can be locked remotely through cloud programs and offer anti-theft software. Find out if these options are available on your device and ensure they are enabled.
  • Back up your data files to another device or to software, such as Dropbox or a cloud storage program, before you leave home.  


While you are travelling

  • Be aware of your surroundings and be mindful of people who might be trying to view your screen or keyboard.
  • Disable your Wi-Fi connection when you are not using your device to connect to the Internet.
  • Use your personal computer or a direct-to-wall-socket charging port to charge your phone. Avoid charging your devices on other computers or devices that you do not control, such as hotel docking stations. Malicious software could be stored on other devices that could be transferred when your device is connected.
  • Never connect an unknown device to your tablet or laptop. Any device that connects to a USB port (flash drive, MP3 players, smart phones, external hard drives, etc.) can be considered a storage device and may contain malicious software.
  • Avoid using unknown storage media such as CDs, DVDs or floppy disks in your computer. They may contain malicious software that automatically reads the contents of storage media or drives. You do not need to click on a malicious file for your computer to be infected.

Protecting your equipment

Protecting the physical security of your devices is just as important as protecting yourself through digital measures. Electronic devices are popular targets for thieves, since they are relatively small and can yield a high profit. A thief can transfer data from your unattended device to a secondary storage device and can upload malicious software to be accessed later.   

  • Always keep your devices with you. Don’t leave your phone charging in a public conference room while you go for lunch or lend your phone to a stranger who needs to make a call.
  • Lock up valuable and sensitive electronic equipment when it is not in use.
  • Don’t leave valuable or sensitive electronic equipment in your hotel room. If you must, remove the battery, if possible, and the SIM card and keep them with you.
  • Just as you wouldn’t wear expensive jewellery in a dangerous area, don’t flash your expensive devices.
  • Don’t rely on “good hiding spots” within a hotel room to secure your equipment. This may be the first time you have seen the room but it is not the first time someone else has seen it.
  • When travelling, keep your electronic equipment in your carry-on baggage to avoid potential in-flight loss or damage.
  • Power off devices while going through customs or other inspection points.

Digital information laws and regulations in other countries

You must obey the intellectual property, digital information and encrypted data laws in the countries that you visit. What is considered legal in Canada may not necessarily be legal in another country. For example:

  • If you access your webmail in another country, do you know whether its government is watching you?
  • Is the risqué novel that you saved on your device considered pornographic in the country you are visiting?
  • Will the music or movies you downloaded on your device cause you intellectual property and digital asset problems when you are entering a foreign country?
  • Can some countries make you give them the data on your device? What if the data is corporate intellectual property?

Laws may apply to the hardware and the format in which your data is stored. If you are not familiar with the laws covering intellectual property, digital information and encrypted data in the country where you are travelling, contact the embassy or mission of your destination country in Canada before you leave on your trip abroad. 

Border agents are legally entitled to search and confiscate the devices of anyone entering or leaving their countries. Do not take any data into another country that you are not prepared to lose. 

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