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Traveling with technology is a topic that impacts many members of the UNC community. Staying digitally connected often means that you will connect your devices to public networks with minimal security measures in hotels, airports, train stations, and conference halls. These public networks often harbor malware from cybercriminals looking to steal your data for identity fraud, as well as nation state actors targeting academic and business travelers for intellectual property.

In some cases, education networks are broadly targeted by government agencies for the benefit of data theft.  Depending on where you travel to, your belongings, including your laptop, tablet, smartphone and files, may be vulnerable to searches, confiscation and duplication.

The first step for members of our community traveling abroad should be to contact their local IT departments, the UNC Study Abroad Office, or the ITS Service Desk. This should be done as far in advance of travel plans as possible to allow for adequate preparation.

Some basic questions to expect when discussing travel are:

  • Where are you traveling to?
  • How long will you be away?
  • Do you access, or work with sensitive data as part of your job here at UNC?

It may come as a surprise, but there are legal implications to traveling with technology that we use in our everyday lives at the University. Your answers to the questions above will help IT staff to determine the best solution for your needs.

Following these best practices will help reduce your exposure to risk while traveling abroad.

Before your trip:

  • Talk to your IT support staff for help to ensure that your devices are safely configured, and that the security features of your device are permitted in your destination country.
  • Ensure that your devices are encrypted, so that if they become lost, no data can be stolen.
  • Ensure data is backed up on a server, drive, or other device NOT making the trip. OneDrive is a great resource for that. Delete any data that will not be needed on the trip.
  • Ensure you have a VPN client installed and know how to use it.
  • Ensure your PC has the latest patches and that antivirus software is updated.
  • Disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on your devices and only turn them on when needed.
  • Carry charging devices so that you won’t have to use a public charging service.
  • Take only the devices that you will need to use. Consider taking a “burner” device that can be rebuilt when you return.  Your IT support should be able to let you know if one is available.

During your trip:

  • Do not use public Wi-Fi networks
  • Avoid using open Wi-Fi networks to conduct personal business, bank, or shop online. Open Wi-Fi networks at places such as airports, coffee shops, and other public locations present an opportunity for attackers to intercept sensitive information that you would provide to complete an online transaction.
  • If you absolutely must check your bank balance or make an online purchase while you are traveling, turn off your device’s Wi-Fi connection and use your mobile device’s cellular data Internet connection instead of making the transaction over an unsecure Wi-Fi network.
  • Assume your data on any wireless network can be monitored, and act accordingly. Use a VPN whenever possible, especially while on public networks and/or when accessing sensitive data.
  • Do not let anyone else borrow or use your devices.
  • Do not borrow any devices (e.g. a USB drive) for use on your computer.
  • Do not install any software on your computer other than what your local IT department has put in place.
  • Be aware of “shoulder surfers” — anyone physically monitoring the use of your device.
  • Keep your devices under your physical control or secured in a proper location when they are not. Never check devices or storage devices in luggage.

When you return:

  • Change any passwords that you used on the trip. Make sure that you use different passwords for different accounts.
  • Clean your machine by running an antivirus scan of your device for malware and follow the instructions to correct any issues. Consider “wiping” the hard drive and restoring from backups made before your trip.  Your IT support should be able to help with this.


If you have any questions or need assistance with your travel preparations, please contact your local IT support, the UNC Study Abroad Office, or the ITS Service Desk at 919-962-HELP.


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