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Traveling? Here's how to protect your data from searches

Traveling? Here's how to protect your data from searches
© Poravute Siriphiroon | Dreamstime.com

Remember the good old days when you could arrive at the airport an hour before your flight and basically hop right on the plane? What about the days when a passport wasn't required to travel to countries like Canada and Mexico?

The rules of travel are constantly changing as potential security risks and threats are spotted. Just recently, we informed you of the ban on electronics larger than your cellphone, but problems have been arising long before that.

Back in February, U.S. citizens were being asked to unlock their phones so that border patrol agents could review their activity. The story of Sidd Bikkannavar, an employee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), proved that no one was exempt from these types of searches. After traveling to South America, Bikkannavar was detained by U.S. Customs even though he was a U.S. citizen, and registered with the Global Entry Program. Still, Bikkannavar was asked to hand over (and unlock) his phone for review at the Houston International Airport. (Click here to read this troubling story.)

Protecting your data from security searches

If these recent trends are indications of what traveling will be like moving forward, it's safe to assume that the data kept on your smartphones, tablets and laptop computers are no longer off limits. But there are some things you can do to keep security officials out of your business.

First, there's always the option of leaving your primary gadget behind. We know that sounds foreign, but it may be worth it. If you can get by with a cheap temporary pre-paid phone, you won't need to worry about your private data being sifted through.

If it's absolutely necessary that you take your primary device, then we recommend following these steps before heading out.

  • Disable fingerprint readers: That fingerprint reader on your smartphone may make it easy to unlock your device, but did you know it also provides a loophole for security officials to access your device as well? While law enforcement officials can't force you to hand over your passcode, they can legally issue a warrant to persuade you to unlock your gadget with your fingerprint. So, if this feature is turned off, your fingerprint won't help them.
  • Forget your passwords: Believe it or not, memorizing your passwords is one of the worst things you can do if you're worried about personal privacy. We've mentioned password managers such as KeePass before, and there's a good reason. It's simple. If your password is stored safely in a program instead of your head, and you're asked to log into one of your accounts, you can honestly say you don't remember your credentials. That said, you could be asked to access the password to your vault if that app is installed on your device. For this reason, it's best to use a cloud service like Dropbox to store a copy of your password vault.
  • Encrypt your gadgets: Apps such as BitLocker and Apple's FileVault will encrypt your device's hard drive, only unscrambling the content if the right code is entered. To avoid being forced to hand over the passphrase, use the strategy mentioned above, or jot it down and hide it in your luggage.

Unfortunately, security searches aren't the only things you need to be prepared for the next time you travel. Click here for more security mistakes that could ruin your next trip.

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