IT Abroad

We often do not think about Information Technology (IT) security while on campus, relying on IT administrators to act on our behalf to keep our systems functioning and secure. Travelers need to recognize that while abroad, more threats to IT security abound. There are steps that travelers should take before, during, and after travel to increase IT security.

Before Travel

  • Awareness. The first step is to simply be aware that additional threats may exist abroad. Knowing that travelers often use public wireless (Wi-Fi) connections, criminal and occasionally government organizations may seek to gain access to IT products.
  • Export Control. Certain countries require extra preparation and certification prior to traveling with IT. Please review the University’s Export Control website for more information.
  • Anti-Virus and Program Updates. Anti-virus provides a base level of protection, but the threat is always changing. Travelers should ensure that they have installed the latest update from their provider.
  • Download a VPN. The University WebStore offers virtual private network (VPN) software that connects users to the campus network. You can run this product on your home, work, or portable computers as long as you maintain student or staff status at the University of Illinois. Learn more about the University VPN.
  • Download Relevant Documents. Bandwidth and/or a strong internet connection may be limited in your destination country. Be sure to download all relevant documents prior to departure.
  • Passwords. Strong passwords are another facet of IT security. Consider changing your passwords before travel and using the strongest ones possible, including capital and small letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid the use of words in the dictionary and personal information (names, birth dates, etc.).
  • Log-In Password. If you do not already use them, create passwords to log into your computer, tablet, or other devices.
  • Travel Light. Finally, more devices also mean more opportunity for loss or compromise. Consider limiting devices to those that you really need; if you require your laptop for a presentation, forego bringing your tablet as well.
  • Insurance for University Electronics. University property is automatically insured, but with a $500,000 deductible. This insurance should not be relied upon for traveling computers due to the high deductible. The University offers a Computer Insurance Plan that can cover computers and other electronic equipment with a lower deductible. However, this coverage is not automatic. Colleges, Departments, or units must contact Risk Management if they want to participate in this plan. Visit the Risk Management website for more information.

While not directly related to IT security, research whether you will need an adapter or converter to charge your devices. Many devices can operate on 110v or 220v, but you will likely still require an adapter for the plug.

During Travel

  • Turn Wi-Fi Off. Monitor your connection to networks. One way to do this is to turn your Wi-Fi off when not in use. When you need access, turn it on and manually select which network you will join.
  • Shared Computers. The chance for password compromise is higher when using shared devices. If using a shared computer (internet café, computer lab, etc.), do not log into secure sites requiring your password (bank, credit card, etc.).
  • Change Passwords. If you believe your password has been compromised, immediately change your password. Use different passwords for each account to limit the number of passwords that you will need to change if one is compromised.
  • Use Secure Networks. When logging into websites that should be secure, ensure that you see httpS:// in the address instead of http://.
  • University E-mail. If logging into your University e-mail, use the University's online Outlook Web App for additional security. Learn more about the Outlook Web App.
  • Pop-Ups and Links. Be careful in clicking on pop-ups when using hotel networks. They may be used to download malicious software. If in question, go directly to the software website. Be alert to suspicious e-mails.
  • Physical Control. Whenever possible, keep your IT devices with you to avoid physical compromise of your devices.

After Travel

  • Change Passwords. Once you return, you should change your passwords, especially if you suspect your system may have been compromised.
  • Update Anti-Virus. Check for updates to your anti-virus software and run a full scan.
  • Inform IT. If you traveled with a University device and believe it may have been compromised or it is not operating normally, please inform your IT department.

Much of this information was developed using the guidance provided by the Overseas Security Advisory Council's “Quick Guide on Best Practices.”