Privacy and security / December 17, 2019

’Tis the Season - Tips for crossing the border

Amanda Lee

Amanda Lee

Senior Project Manager, TELUS Wise


As the holiday season approaches, many of us look forward to visiting family and friends - sometimes across the border. The holidays are a peak travel season and unfortunately a time when we can be more vulnerable to privacy and security attacks. According to an IBM Security report, more than 70% of travelers expose themselves to potential privacy breaches through high-risk behaviors like carrying a device containing sensitive information, frequent use of public Wi-Fi, automatically connecting to public networks and using public charging stations. Generally speaking, when on the road, travellers can also be distracted and overwhelmed, choosing convenience over security. Sometimes these security and privacy risks may not be as obvious as we’d think. For example, when traveling today, it’s not uncommon for a Customs Officer to request to see your device. If asked, it’s helpful to put your device into airplane mode before you key in the password and hand it over. Airplane mode prevents access to cloud services that could house potentially sensitive information. Additionally, you should log out of any accounts and social media apps, further protecting your privacy, and know what data is on your device so you can easily answer any questions.

Now that you’ve made it through customs, below are some additional tips to help you protect your privacy and security during holiday travels:

Limit online activities to browsing when using public Wi-Fi:

Be cautious about the data you share when using public Wi-Fi as it could be intercepted by fraudsters. That is, don’t use it for activities that will transmit sensitive data, like shopping online and entering your credit card information. Even if the Wi-Fi network is password protected, it still poses a vulnerability so consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app to encrypt the data being shared.

Switch Bluetooth off:

If your Bluetooth is on, your device will sync up automatically with nearby devices and networks. Bluetooth is great in the car or at home, where it’s safer to communicate with your other electronic devices; however, most of us forget to turn Bluetooth off when we go to public places, and especially when we go on vacation. With your Bluetooth connectivity left open, fraudsters may be able to gain access to your device without your knowledge. The only way to avoid this threat is to turn this feature off when you don’t need it.

Avoid public charging stations:

It’s best to avoid public charging stations and don’t use charging cables that you find lying around – it could be a trap. Remember that USB ports can pass data, so always use a trusted source for charging. Carry a power bank or use a charging cable that can plug into voltage. This may require you to take an adapter for electrical sockets that are different to those in Canada.

Keep your devices secure:

Your devices are least likely to be accessed by scammers when they’re on your person. Do not put devices in your checked baggage, choosing instead to store them in carry-on luggage. Further, keep them where you can see them at the hotel or lock them up in a safe.

Watch for shoulder surfers:

When you’re in a public area, it’s very easy for fraudsters to gather information about you simply by listening in on your conversations or reading over your shoulder. If you’re having a private conversation and sharing sensitive information, for example, talking to your bank, try to do so in a place where shoulder surfing is less likely. Be mindful of the conversations you have in public, and look out for people who are reading your screen. If necessary, use a screen guard – especially if you’re working alongside other passengers while on a plane, train or bus.

Minimizing privacy and security risks while travelling takes some diligence, but don’t forget to also take time to relax and unwind on vacation. Consider going on a digital diet and reducing your screen time in order to be mindful and fully savour your experience. Although designed with students in mind, many adults appreciate our TELUS Wise happiness workshop for its tips that can help you ensure resiliency and well-being in our connected world. Take the online workshop at

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