Travel tech security tips

Travel tech security tips

Summary: Whether you like holidaying with your gadgets or you're required to travel for work, there's going to come a time when you have to consider the safety of your gear, or the data it holds.

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Before you go

Booking

Booking accommodation online has always been a risky business. The advent of review sites like TripAdvisor make it easier to determine if accommodation is real, and if it's up to scratch, but it's still difficult to know whether the site you're using is a legitimate booking service.

In recent years, Australians have also fallen victim to fake flight-booking websites that expertly imitate the real deal. This scam has been known to go so far as to issue a fake e-ticket without ever booking a seat.

Minimise your exposure to fake websites by sticking to the official websites of known hotels or booking services, or those that you, your friends, and family have used before.

However, never simply assume that you're using the official website. It's worth checking the "Contact Us" or "About Us" pages to find a direct contact number to call; you'll soon realise whether you're dealing with a booking agent.

A lack of any contact details should trigger alarm bells. Take a look over their terms of service to glean some details about who truly owns the site. Even if a site is a legitimate booking service, it may charge fees that would be absent from a direct booking, so you may be paying more.

credit card and laptop
(No copyright issues! image by Miguel Ugalde, royalty free)

If you don't have the luxury of using a known, trustworthy site, then stay savvy. Search for reviews on the website you're visiting to see if you can dig up any dirt, and compare deals with sites that you know are legitimate to see whether the deal is outrageously cheap. Always consider that age-old adage: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Where possible, use pay-protected payments instead of cash, and avoid handing over credit card information if feasible; instead, use a service such as PayPal, which hides your information.

Check SCAMwatch for updated information on known or current scams, especially around popular holiday times.

Warranties and insurance

The good news is that the majority of claims over damage, loss, and theft are regularly paid by Australian insurers, but make sure you get a policy that fits your needs.

It goes without saying that you should always read the fine details of your insurance policy, no matter how painful that sounds. Take particular note of the amounts covered for each scenario.

One thing you'll find in almost every policy is a differentiation between the total cover of lost or stolen items and the per-item cover. For instance, you may be covered for AU$15,000 worth of lost or stolen items, but only up to AU$800 per item. That doesn't bode well for your AU$2,000 camera, does it? In this situation, you should consider a more expensive policy, or pay a little extra to insure individual items for greater amounts.

It's also important to consider the conditions under which your claim will be valid. The most common example of this is the requirement that you make a police report within 24 hours of the crime. No insurer will validate a claim for a stolen camera, for example, without an accompanying police report from a local police station. You should also take the details of any other organisations, like tour operators, hotel, or bus companies associated with the theft or loss. Your insurer may expect you to seek damages from them before they're willing to cough up any cash.

If your device is under warranty, check to see whether it's an international warranty. If not, your device's manufacturer probably offers one for an additional fee. An international warranty will most often allow you to walk into a store and have the product fixed almost anywhere in the world. Without it, you may be on your own.

Prevention, however, is the best defence, so be prepared before you set off.

Packing

Consider your electronics as you would your other belongings: if you don't need it, don't take it. Aside from the weight issue, you're just inviting unnecessary damage.

  • Backups

    data storage
    (Data storage 1 image by Svilen Milev, royalty free)

    Back-up all of your data so there's at least a second copy, and try to leave one copy at home. If you're taking files with you that are imperative for your trip, consider keeping a backup on a second, portable hard drive, and store that separately to your laptop. If one gets lost or stolen, the other may yet survive.

    Additionally, or alternatively, consider using a cloud data service. There's a range of free services now available, including offerings from names you'll already know and trust, such as Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Dropbox. Cloud services may not be ideal for your company's highly sensitive data, but they are great for storing everyday documents, presentations, and images that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.

  • Damage prevention

    Most electronic devices are averse to sharp knocks, moisture, and extreme temperatures.

    If you're a business traveller, then it's worthwhile ensuring that you are provided with, or purchase, equipment specifically designed for business users. Business laptops, for example, offer better in-built safety measures, such as hard-drive "roll cages", spill trays, motion sensors, and tough screen housing.

    If you're carrying your personal gear, it's even more important to buy protective casing; consumer technology is often built for style and not endurance.

    Although it's generally safe to subject your gadgets to the cold, unpressurised air of the plane's cargo hold, some consideration should be taken for any specialised or sensitive equipment. Be sure you know the limitations of your own equipment, because transport luggage handlers won't.

    That goes for any extreme conditions that you may encounter at your destination, too. Although most consumer electronics will function in conditions that are more demanding than you can handle, they may not function quite as well. Battery life, for example, is greatly impacted by cooler temperatures.

    It may be necessary to keep your spare camera battery tucked somewhere warm (even up against your body will do) in order to keep on taking snaps in extreme wintry cold.

    Most electronic devices suffer in excessive heat, including camera CCDs, laptop CPUs, and more. Avoiding heat damage can be as simple as turning your device off for a while or getting it into the shade, away from direct sunlight.

  • Theft

    If you're worried about damages, you can invest in the usual collection of tablet screen guards, phone cases, camera UV filters, and cushy laptop bags, but if you're worried about theft, or you're travelling through regions that are known for their crime, then you may want to get a little bit more James Bond-like.

    There are a number of manufacturers that sell smartphone and tablet cases with slash-proof material and wire straps — which is great for tethering your camera. Thieves have been known to simply disembowel a backpack while it's still on your back, but some basic wire netting from an airport gift shop could save you the concern. It's certainly better to be prepared than to realise too late that you should have invested in one, so add these to your shopping list before you set off.

    And remember, one of the best things you can do is be discreet. Advertising your wealth in a poor country is asking for your goods to be stolen, and you may find yourself in more trouble than your insurance can protect you from.

Topics: Travel Tech, Security

Irene Mickaiel

About Irene Mickaiel

Irene is product manager in Australia for CBS Interactive sites such as CNET Australia, GameSpot, TV.com, ZDNet and TechRepublic. Before Irene became hooked on IT media, she worked on illustrated reference, lifestyle and education books.

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2 comments
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  • Interesting Article...

    Not every single item applies to every single person, but it is a good reminder to be vigilant. I would also say that flying first class can help avoid many of these issues as well. You usually get a separate lounge to wait in and on many flights are in a completely different part of the cabin than others. The chances of a thief paying for a first class ticket is a lot less likely.

    The one item that I disagree with is "Regularly back up your memory cards to USB drives or DVDs, and mail a copy home."
    You should use an online photo service that will let you redownload full resolution images (SmugMug is a great one) and backup nightly to it (yes, using public WiFi if necessary). This avoids the possibility of the mail getting lost or stolen.
    cmwade1977
  • Backup to cloud or disc

    That's a fair point and a very good idea. Of course, I have been in many towns in poorer countries where finding a computer with Internet is one thing, but uploading even a single high-res image is unthinkable.

    Oh how I wish I could add flying first class to my preventative steps ha!
    JSic