China has some of the most exotic tourist destinations in the world, with a number of unique sights and experiences for travelers to discover. However, when it comes to personal data, it is important that travelers are especially cautious and prepared when traveling to China, as this can save you a world of trouble.
Your privacy and valuable intellectual property could be vulnerable to electronic snooping. In fact, China ranks among the top 15 countries where cyber attacks originate. Devices such as iPads, smartphones and laptops are the common targets for these attacks. These portable devices, as you already know, are an extension of your personal identity – they store a wide range of valuable datasuch as your credit card information, email and social media accounts, contacts, pictures, messages and videos.
So, you already know the kind of trouble you’d get yourself into if your data security is compromised. It is certainly wise, therefore, to take precautionary measures to ensure your data is secured.
You don’t have to be a computer geek to know that when you browse the web using a regular window, the browser saves a lot of information. Information such as the web address of every page you visit, cookies and caches are saved in this process. Cookies, for instance, have loads of functions, and when accessed by big advertising companies like Google’s DoubleClick, your activity can be tracked from one website to another across the internet. You wouldn’t want to let this ‘tiny’ bit of information get into the wrong hands.
Therefore, using incognito mode is important as it blocks websites from saving valuable information on your smartphone. You may consider using VPNs and Tor browsers while at this. They can help to completely erase your ‘digital footprints’, ensuring your activity is totally untraceable.
Incognito is good, but a VPN is better. The Chinese government closely tracks web traffic and uses its ‘Great Firewall’ to block certain content. This digital block affects almost every foreigner visiting or living in China.
Popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and YouTube will be difficult to access from China. It is also not uncommon for internet users in China to see their emails disappear from their Gmail inbox at times.
Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an effective way to avoid this. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel to protect your web traffic from the snooping eyes of interlopers. A VPN can also make your internet activity look as though it originates in the US, which will allow you access to US-only websites that are otherwise unavailable to users in China or other foreign countries.
Some of the best VPN services for China include ExpressVPN, NordVPN andVyprVPN. They are available at different price points and are compatible with popular devices and operating systems, including Windows, MacOS, and iOS.
Your smartphone Wi-Fi may piggyback automatically one any nearby public Wi-Fi if it is on at all times. Unfortunately, this could happen without even prompting you, making your device vulnerable to hacking. Therefore, ensure you keep your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off as it minimizes the chances that your devices can connect to suspicious Wi-Fi networks or devices.
However, if you need to connect to a Wi-Fi, then it would be ideal to use a VPN to protect your connection. We would recommend that you do not just use any VPN service, but one with a range of security options and advanced encryption protocols to keep you protected and anonymous when your devices are connected to unsecure Wi-Fi hotspots.
When traveling to a country like China where data theft is common, securing your personal information is a no-brainer. Using a password manager is one effective way to achieve this. A password manager is the first line of defense for your smartphone. Beyond managing your passwords, it protects your device with advanced two-factor authentication protocols. A password manager like Lastpass, for instance, has amazing features such as security notifications, geo-restricted logins and password iterations.
Updating your smartphone’s software is more important that you would imagine. More than just introduce more user-friendly features to the UI, software updates improve virus definitions and security patches to boost your phone’s immunity against hackers. While at this, ensure you clean up your device by deleting old apps that are of little to no use to you. Apps typically track user locations and collect data, so the less apps you have on your phone, the better.
As stated above, it is common for smartphone apps to collect information related to your location. While this can be useful on occasion, leaving your location tracking on at all times can be risky. This is particularly the case with geo-tracking social media apps since they literally share your location with the public. Your location will be much harder for cybercriminals to track when your geo-tracking is turned off.
Always remember to stay off any suspicious links that are not relevant to you. Click-baiting techniques are commonly used for evil purposes, even on some of the most popular websites. Clicking on any suspicious link may undermine the security of your private information.
This rule also applies to suspicious emails. If you are not sure about the sender, do not open the email. You should also treat “promotional” emails that offer discounts when you click on a particular link the same way. Clicking on suspicious links may compromise the security of your smartphone and render it vulnerable to online threats. Ensure you avoid these links.
If you are in China for business, a throwaway phone can help you avoid downloading spyware and taking it back to your home country. Before your trip to China, purchase temporary devices that can keep your protected against cybercriminals. Keep in mind that buying such phones or PCs in China may not be a brilliant idea as they could have in-built monitoring software.
If you must make calls via online channels, ensure you use encrypted platforms like Skype; your calls can always be monitored by the Chinese government even if your cellular company service is from the US.
As is the case with your laptops, always ensure your tablets and smartphones are in sight. Be respectful but firm in declining custom officers’ request to take your devices away from your sight, and ensure you are always with them when you leave your hotel room.
Security experts recommend that you treat all your devices as compromised upon your return from your trip to China. Reformat your tablets, smartphones and laptops before using them at the home or office, or simply let go of them. Extract the Sim cards from the devices and break them in half before taking the devices to a recycling center.