As the holiday season approaches, we want to remind everyone that safe travels includes more than just driving safely; there are cybersecurity and privacy considerations as well. We strongly encourage you to always follow our Top 7 Tips for Individual Cybersecurity, even when you travel (you can download a free printer-friendly version here). We also recommend creating an electronics travel kit. The kit should include*:
- A travel extension cord (e.g., https://www.amazon.com/NTONPOWER-Outlets-Extension-Nightstand-Conference/dp/B072N854DK/ or https://www.amazon.com/Anker-Charger-Foldable-PowerPort-Samsung/dp/B00VH8G1SY/);
- A wall adapter capable of charging multiple devices simultaneously (for example, something like this: https://www.amazon.com/Anker-Charger-Foldable-PowerPort-Samsung/dp/B00VH8G1SY/);
- A cigarette lighter adapter (e.g., https://www.amazon.com/AUKEY-Charger-Output-iPhone-Samsung/dp/B00M6QODH2/)
- A USB data blocker (e.g., https://www.amazon.com/PortaPow-3rd-Data-Blocker-Pack/dp/B00T0DW3F8);
- Charging cable for each device (i.e., laptop, tablet, phone, watch, earbuds, game, etc.) plus a spare phone cable; and
- A portable battery to charge your devices (e.g., something like this: https://www.fivebelow.com/2600mah-power-bank-with-led-display.html).
The whole kit can be put together for less than $100 and could make a great Christmas present, especially when combined with a bag (such as this: https://www.amazon.com/Electronic-Accessories-Organizer-Carrying-Earphones/dp/B07833GL7W, or https://www.amazon.com/UGREEN-Electronic-Organizer-Digital-Speaker/dp/B07DQBC6NH).
So, why do you need to carry all this stuff? The travel extension cord is very useful in airports or other locations where power outlets can be scarce or inconveniently placed. For example, in many hotel rooms we have recently visited, the outlets near the bed are all taken by lamps, alarm clocks, etc. The travel extension cord allows us to use one of those outlets to charge our electronics without having half the room be dark. Similarly, some rooms now have power outlets on the desk or nightstand, but they do not provide enough clearance for larger wall adapters. The travel extension cord allows us to use our preferred wall adapter with those outlets.
You’re probably thinking “but you can find USB charging ports just about anywhere; why would you need a wall outlet and extension cord?” In short, those charging ports can be modified to allow an attacker to copy all of the data from your device, and even to plant malware on your device. The ports can also provide inconsistent and potentially damaging amounts of electricity to your device. Given the range of issues these public USB ports pose, we recommend to our clients that they avoid them.
We also recommend carrying a cigarette lighter adapter for the same reasons. Automobiles are a convenient place to charge our devices, but criminals know that they can modify the USB port on a rental car and gain access to or infect your device. Rental car USB adapters also take more abuse than most personal vehicle adapters (think about how often you unplug your cable in your car versus during a rental) and thus are more likely to suffer electrical issues that can damage your device. Carrying a known-good USB car adapter helps avoid these problems.
That being said, we know that wall and cigarette lighter adapters are left behind, fail, or simply fall out of a bag. That is why we recommend also carrying a USB data blocker. The USB data blocker prevents a potentially malicious USB port from accessing the data on your device. It should be noted that although the USB data blocker does a good job of protecting your device from criminals, it will not condition the power supplied by the USB outlet and thus your device can still be damaged.
We recommend carrying spare cables when you travel because you don’t want to use charging cables you find lying around or that you borrow from a stranger. There are malicious cables out there (see https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/evj4qw/these-iphone-lightning-cables-will-hack-your-computer) that can be used to give an attacker access to all of the data on your device. In addition, some cables are poorly made or contain lower-quality electronics and can fail easily. We encourage our clients to always use cables purchased by them, and cables that have been purchased from a reputable source (not the bin next to the gas station cash register).
Finally, we recommend carrying a portable battery for those times when other power sources simply aren’t convenient or accessible. Examples include when you are getting off a plane or train and need to call your rideshare or let your loved one know you arrived safely. We find we use ours most when attending conferences, where the wall outlets are typically already taken by others. The portable batteries are small, light weight, and extremely handy in those desperate times.
Best wishes for safe travels! Our blog has more useful cybersecurity and privacy information, and if you want to learn more about cybersecurity, register for our webinars. Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss a post!
* Please note: Although we have provided links to certain products, those links are provided for illustrative purposes only. We have not tested those products and, consistent with our role as a trusted advisor and agent for our clients, we are not endorsing any product or vendor. We do not receive any compensation if you purchase the products we reference.