A Digital Nomad’s Guide to Protecting Your Devices and Data

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Ashley_Buckwell
edited August 2023 in Lifestyle

Protecting your valuable belongings and ensuring travel safety while abroad is common sense. However, digital nomads, who are often traveling in unfamiliar regions with expensive gear, face unique threats to their devices and also their data. Read on to learn our travel safety tips and what digital nomads should be doing to safeguard their devices and data.

What are digital nomads?

Digital nomads are individuals who travel while working online. They are often depicted working on their laptops at the beach before retiring to a bar in the afternoon with other friendly expats and locals. Although this particular depiction of the lifestyle of a digital nomad is far from accurate, the truth is that digital nomads do face unique threats to their devices and data, depending on their lifestyle. The following lifestyle factors all influence how secure a nomad’s devices and data are:

Nomad lifestyle–related factors influencing security of devices and data 

Here are some factors that are unique to nomads that indirectly influence their device and data security:

  • How often nomads travel. Nomads may spend 3–9 months in a single location, but less commonly, some individuals who intend to be nomadic for only short periods of time will often travel quickly, rushing between destinations every week or two. Every new destination brings risk due to having to learn the ins and outs of the place and figuring out how to fit in safely.
  • Where nomads live. A common assumption is that nomads usually live in poorer nations because of the lower cost of living. Although this is generally correct, some nomads live and work in their own countries or in more expensive places where they have long wanted to live. Most nomads live in cities rather than small beach towns or jungles, because cities offer up the kind of infrastructure they need to get work done, including coworking spaces, reliable Internet connections, networking opportunities, and a wide range of accommodation choices. Others may live in small towns or in the countryside. Depending on where a nomad is from, the risks associated with where they choose to live and work vary. Nomads need to become accustomed to their new environment.
  • Where nomads work. It turns out that the beach is not the ideal work location. Rain, sea, sand, and sun all sound great but can interfere not just with your work but with the long-term health of your electronic equipment. Nomads prefer to work from home, at a cafe, or at a coworking space, in that order, and each work location has its own security implications.
  • Daily routine. Some nomads wake up at dawn and finish their work by mid-afternoon, whereas others start in the early afternoon or evening and work through to the small hours of the morning. If a nomad is working late and needs to get home through dark unfamiliar streets, anything could happen. And a lifestyle that enables drinking every night can lead to all sorts of trouble.

One thing remains consistent regardless of a nomad’s unique lifestyle: nomads are at higher risk of cyberattack and theft of personal equipment than traditional workers. In the next section, we will explain why this is and how nomads can protect themselves.

Threats to devices and data faced by digital nomads

Any individual who uses the Internet or who owns an expensive device, such as a camera, laptop, or phone, needs to be aware of the various threats to their personal devices and data. Digital nomads face additional and unique threats. Furthermore, the implications of losing devices and data are more serious for digital nomads than for the general population because nomads use these devices for their work.

The primary threat for a nomad is that their device gets stolen and subsequently hacked into. For example, someone could snatch their laptop or phone off of a table at a coffee shop and then either hack into it themselves or sell it to an organization that knows how to extract information from it.

The secondary threat is that a nomad’s data may be intercepted while in transit over the Internet. Network traffic is constantly being monitored and manipulated, especially when transiting over public WiFi networks at coffee shops, hotels, and airports.

Why is cybersecurity and device protection important for digital nomads?

Although cybersecurity practices and data loss protection are important for anyone who has an electronic device, they are particularly vital for those nomads who do not have an IT department helping them protect their data.

Nomads typically own their own equipment and therefore have to pay (with both time and money) for the replacement of stolen laptops, phones, or other devices required for work.

In addition to the time wasted replacing stolen devices, a nomad may need to take some time off work to recover physically and emotionally from a theft. Also, the theft of company equipment, for those nomads who work for multinational companies, can reflect negatively on the employee. Depending on when and how the item was stolen (at a coffee shop vs. five shots deep in a bar), the company may choose to reprimand or fire the employee.

Besides having to replace their equipment, nomads might have to literally pay a price for stolen data, information, and the loss of intellectual property; legal agreements between nomads and their clients may stipulate financial penalties if nomads do not take sufficient precautions to protect the data on their devices.

Reputation damage from losing a client’s data will also have negative financial implications. Nomads often rely on referrals and their reputation to obtain work, and recovering from a bad client review after an attack is difficult.

Best practices for device and data protection

The following is a list of data protection solutions Follow these 10 tips to ensure you have the best chance at keeping your devices and data safe as a digital nomad:

  1. Turn on hard drive encryption. If a thief gains physical access to a device that is encrypted, they will not be able to access the data without the login password.
  2. Keep software updated so that bugs in the code are patched as soon as they are identified. Bugs can leave your valuable data vulnerable to theft.
  3. Leverage the cloud for backups. We previously described the differences between physical and cloud backups. For nomads, cloud backups are preferable to physical backups, because nomads are at increased risk of having both primary and backup devices stolen simultaneously.
  4. Use strong passwords and a password manager, such as Bitwarden. Each of your passwords should be unique, so that any loss resulting from the theft of a single password is limited to a single account. A password manager will remember all your unique passwords for you, and it can also store two-factor authentication seeds, credit card numbers, and various other private data.
  5. Enable two-factor authentication. This adds an additional layer of security to your accounts, because in addition to requiring login credentials, a two-factor authentication code, generated on a different device or in a secure app, is also required.
  6. Use a VPN to secure your Internet traffic. VPNs encrypt your data in transit, keeping it safe from being intercepted while passing over public WiFi networks. Furthermore, VPNs allow nomads to get around geo-blocking, circumvent censorship, and spoof their location.
  7. Lock your devices whenever you are not using them, so that if they are stolen, the thief will not have unfettered access to your decrypted data.
  8. Be mindful of your surroundings. Do not take your work equipment to a bar, and whenever in public, be aware of who is around you and how secure your devices are. Even if you consider it safe enough to leave your laptop unattended in public, you should at least lock it.
  9. Use electrical outlets or your own power bank rather than public USB outlets to charge your devices. Free USB charging stations at airports, train stations, and hotels come with the risk of juice jacking.
  10. Travel insurance. Digital nomads generally require a combination of travel, health, and theft insurance when they are working abroad. Make sure you have insurance for electronics, as this is not always included by default in insurance plans.

By understanding the risks of data loss and following these suggestions, nomads will be better protected. Although it may seem daunting, learning to adopt cybersecurity best practices will in the long run save you time, money, and effort. 

Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.

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