How can I protect sensitive online info and a portable hard drive while traveling?
January 31, 2011 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to embark on an approximately 3.5 month backpacking trip through the north of Africa and Middle East. I'm looking for advice on web/tech security while traveling. My first issue concerns web security- in order to avoid having credit card and banking info stolen through key loggers and such at internet cafes, I'm thinking of performing all my 'sensitive' interwebbing (ie hostel reservations, banking) on my iPod touch. Are there precautions I should take to ensure web security even on the Touch? Do more technologically competent MeFites than myself approve of using the Touch? Secondly, I'm planning on backing up my photos on a portable hard drive and I'll be using public computers to do so. Do I have to worry about any viruses and such getting onto the hard drive? If so, what can I do to avoid that?

A few more specifics...

My camera is a Nikon D90, and I expect to be shooting ~100 pictures a day. I've got one of these usb card readers, so I won't be connecting my camera directly to computers (... which I'm assuming is a wise thing to do, right?). I'll be keeping the pictures on multiple SD cards, and just using the hard drive as a back up.

As is quite obvious, I'm not the most tech savvy person, so I *greatly* appreciate advice that doesn't assume I know very much in the big, terrifying tech world.
posted by isaypotato to Technology (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm thinking of performing all my 'sensitive' interwebbing (ie hostel reservations, banking) on my iPod touch. Are there precautions I should take to ensure web security even on the Touch?

Yes. Set up or purchase a subscription to a VPN. It will run you about $5-6 a month. Based on an AskMe recommendation, I use hideipvpn but any comparable service will do. Enter your login info on your ipod touch settings and turn on the VPN from your wifi settings once you are connected to a network.
You will see a logo on the top left (next to wifi signal indicator) showing that you are now on a secure VPN.
posted by special-k at 9:28 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found it easier, and feel more safe, backing up to DVD while backpacking. You can bring your own, or most internet cafe's will sell them. There's a lot less chance of a DVD getting damaged while you're traveling around. You could even burn 2 discs and mail one back home to make sure you have safe copy.

In 3.5 months, you're almost assured to get everything you have soaked at least once. Bring a ziploc for the hard drive while it's in your bag.
posted by dripdripdrop at 9:35 AM on January 31, 2011

What will you do if there is wired internet but no wifi?

For those situations I recommend having a secure flash drive with portable apps (Firefox, Thunderbird, pdf reader) installed on it. You can get an Iron Key which in addition to being almost indestructible is also protected against keyloggers and will destroy the data chip after 10 password attempts.

You can safely keep scans of your passport and other travel documents in case the originals get stolen, without worrying about the data on here becoming compromised if they end up in the wrong hands.
posted by special-k at 9:35 AM on January 31, 2011

Best answer: Your connection to your bank should be going through https, which is already enormously helpful. Use VPN and https, and you should be fine there, there's always some risk, but nothing I'd worry about.

I'd have more practical concerns about relying on the Touch - possibility of theft, difficulties keeping it charged, possible damage and malfunction. Make sure you've got a back up plan.

re: viruses picked up between the camera, computer and portable drive.

If all you're transferring to the portable hard drive is the photos from your camera, you're pretty safe honestly. Again, I'd be more concerned about logistics. How confident are you that the drive will survive the trip undamaged and unstolen? I'd recommend finding somewhere on the web you can upload the photos too as well.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:36 AM on January 31, 2011

I forgot to mention that you can install the https everywhere (and virtually any other) add on for your portable Firefox on your secure flash drive.
posted by special-k at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also assume you've looked into Eye-Fi cards?

You can set it up to automatically upload to Flickr when you are in range of Wifi.
posted by special-k at 9:50 AM on January 31, 2011

As a further precaution, you may want to check with your credit/debit card banks to see what kind of protection they offer in case of fraud. Learn their policies so you know what you should do if your bank account gets taken over. I had my card hijacked using an online site, and my travel partner had his debit card stolen from his backpack on the same trip. (Note: we both used EverBank and though it was a lot of paperwork, we both got all of our money back. I love EverBank).

Also: your hard drive? May be a bit more fallible than you are considering. It could get wet. It could get smashed. Someone could steal it. The SD cards could get stolen. I would recommend keeping as many photos as possible online somewhere. Facebook? Flickr? Picasa?
posted by amicamentis at 9:58 AM on January 31, 2011

Virtually all internet cafes in China, where I live, disable their USB ports, so keep that in mind if when reading the advice above about portable apps on USB drives.
posted by msittig at 10:07 AM on January 31, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, lots of really helpful answers. In response to a few suggestions...

- Internet speeds in the places I'm traveling generally range from horrible to super horrible, so using online photo sights as a backup won't be ideal as upload times will be sky high. However, internet allowing, I'm hoping to upload at least my favorite shots to picasa. Technology and postal system allowing, I'll give the DVD backup a shot as well.
- I've talked with other travelers, and most hostels and internet cafes throughout the Middle East have wireless. I've heard that Syria is the one country that's a bit behind- both in the availability of wireless, and connection speeds. Word of mouth is that pretty much all cafes have working USB ports as well.
- I was originally planning on doing the trip sans any internet enabled technology, so if the Touch fails or (fingers crossed) is stolen, then I'll just rock it (hopefully?) old school.
- I'm aware of the moisture sensitivity of all this load of tech gear, so I have a surplus of plastic bags and a couple of generally really handy dry bags. My side bag, where I generally keep my camera and lenses, is a a waterproof Timbuk2.
posted by isaypotato at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2011

Dessicant packs (from consumer electronics) are a great thing to have in your dry bags - it helps counteract changes in temperature or high humidity.
posted by urban greeting at 11:39 AM on February 21, 2011

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