Safe iPhone Travelling

A couple months ago I wrote a column about using my iPhone while travelling. One of the issues I didn't discuss in the column is using your iPhone safely while travelling. We often forget in these days of hyper-connectivity that at any given moment there are thousands of bits of data flying about the ether linking you to your friends and loved ones. That data, and the data stored on your iPhone or iPad is in many cases far more important than the device itself.

If you've ever damaged your phone and then wondered how you were going to get all those baby pictures off it, you know what I'm talking about. This is usually the point where I get a call from a friend and I say, don't worry. All your photos were saved on your computer when you last backed up your phone. And they say, “Backed up my phone?” Note the question mark.

First and foremost, before you do anything else, if you're not backing your phone up to a computer using iTunes you need to start today.

Install iTunes on your Mac or PC and plug your iPhone in. iTunes should recognize it right away. Now you have a choice. Backup to your computer or iCloud. Myself, I prefer my own computer as it's backed up as well. Us computer guys love redundancy. There's nothing wrong with iCloud, except the limited size, so you can use that too. Perform a backup. You'll find this under File | Devices | Back Up if you're not already looking at the device summary screen.

If you select This Computer for backup it will also give you the option of encrypting the backup. This prevents someone from cloning your phone if your computer is stolen. I don't bother, but if you have the nuclear launch codes on your iPhone you'll probably want to say yes.

Okay backup out of the way. Now if you lose your phone you can buy another, restore your backup and carry on like nothing happened.

What about other safety concerns? I use my phone quite a bit while travelling and one of things I've discovered is that WiFi is ubiquitous now. The issue with WiFi and your phone is that WiFi communication is not secure by default. Some communication is secure. For example, if you use the Gmail app for you email then it's secure, but not all communication is done over secure channels.

So, here're some simple rules to follow while travelling. Use a different password on all your accounts. You should do this anyway, but it's especially important while travelling. Otherwise, if your password is stolen, hackers will scan a million sites, checking for access, in about five minutes. Be careful when typing in passwords. Cover your screen with your body. Don't leave it lying on the table top while you type it in. Actually don't leave your phone lying on a table top anyway. A lot of phones are stolen that way. Just a quick grab and run. Unless you're Usain Bolt, in which case it may just be for training purposes.

Set up Find My Phone. This is an iCloud service that let's you track your phone, play a beep, display a message (useful if you've left it somewhere and you'd like the finder to contact you), or even wipe the data. Have a passcode (Under Settings | Passcode) on your phone. And don't make it 1234 or 0000. Turn on the Require Passcode and set it to After 1 minute. You can make it longer at home. Turn on Erase Data. If someone is trying to get into your phone, after ten tries it wipes the phone. This keeps people from accessing all your email, contacts, banking app, etc. Don't worry you can restore everything from your backup when you get home.

When you get home, change your passwords. It is trivial for a free WiFi site to record many of the passwords that your phone sends across its network. If you reuse your passwords, you could be in for a shock. I don't change all my passwords, but I do change the important ones when I get home. Anything that can be used to purchase things, paypal, banking, and email, etc.

If you're really anal about security, or if your company requires you to be anal about it, then use a VPN while travelling. A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a network you sign into securely and then passes all your communication through encrypted. There's a good Canadian firm called BTGuard, which will provide you a VPN for a month for $9.95.