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Protecting your device from data theft while travelling

10 simple, but necessary, precautions

October 8, 2019 — 

Did you know that the information stored on your electronic device, including laptop, tablet and smartphone is more vulnerable to attackers when you are travelling? For example, open public WiFi connections may not be as secure as you think and there is increased risk of theft or loss of your device.  If you get distracted for a minute, this is enough time for an attacker to walk away with your device and all the information stored on it. Not only could this have implications for your personal information, but it could also have serious consequences for University systems and information, research data, student information, etc.

Travelling introduces significant risks to the information you have stored on the electronic devices that you take with you. Protect your personal and University-related information by taking simple, but necessary, precautions.

Preparing for your trip

1. Be as informed a possible about your destination.

Some countries present a high risk for travellers. Information about your destination can be found on the Canadian government’s travel advice and advisories page.

2. Be aware of the information stored on your electronic devices.

If you are taking an electronic device, such as your laptop, review the information that is currently stored on it and remove any sensitive information.

For more information on what types of information are classified as sensitive and restricted, see the University of Manitoba’s data security classification document.

3. Backup your data.

Imagine losing years of research data because of device theft! Ensure your data is saved to a network drive so that it is backed up regularly.  In the event that your device is compromised and you lose all the information stored locally, you can restore it when you return from your travels. Did you know that it may take up to 10 days to get fully operational after a laptop loss?

5. Encrypt your device!

In the event of a loss or theft of your device, encryption prevents unauthorized access to your data.  Contact your local IT support to arrange for your device to be encrypted or verify you already have encryption in place prior to traveling.

While you’re travelling

5. Avoid logging into the University network with your UMNetID and password on unsecured WiFi.

When a WiFi hotspot is unsecured, that means data you transmit or received is unprotected. Anybody on the same network could spy on your information if they have the know-how. If you decide to use free public WiFi, be careful about the types of sites you visit. It is safest to not log into to any sites that require a password. If you must access email or other systems, ensure that you are using the UofM VPN service which will create an encrypted secure connection.

6. Be aware of your surroundings when logging in or entering data into your devices.

Keep a watchful eye when you are entering your UMNetID and password. It’s not uncommon for an attacker to simply watch from a close distance, or “shoulder surf”, as you type in your credentials.

7. Avoid using public workstations.

Public workstations should not be considered secure.  If the systems are not maintained properly, there may be malware present. When you use a public workstation in a café, hotel, library, etc., anything that you enter into the workstation, including IDs, passwords, and data, may be captured by an attacker.

If you think your UMNetID and password, information or electronic device has been compromised, contact the IST Service Desk as soon as possible at (204)474-8600.

8. Avoid Public Charging Stations.

The cable that charges your phone is also used to send data. Connecting your device to an unknown port has its risks. If the port is compromised, there is a risk of data theft. Look in to purchasing a power only charging cable  or data blocker USB device for unsafe situations.

When you return

9. Change your passwords!

When you return from your trip, change any passwords that you may have used during your travels.

10. Have your devices inspected by your local IT Support upon your return.

If you connected your device to an unknown or public network while traveling, there is the chance that an attacker installed malicious software on your device and is patiently waiting for you to connect it to the University or your personal network.

Contact the IST Service Desk at (204)474-8600 for assistance.


 Additional resources:


Information Security Starts with You! October is Cyber Security Awareness Month. Go to the Information and Security Compliance website for more information.



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