Quick Guide: Traveling Tech Theft Prevention

Here's a subject that should also be of great interest to RVers, who, like me, seem more and more tethered to our electronics every day.

I travel a lot, both on business and for my RVing pleasure. I also have a lot of gadgets, expensive gadgets. And I have a spouse and kids, who also travel a lot and have a lot of expensive gadgets.  All that adds up to a lot of expensive gadgets on the move.  As the gadgets get smaller and more expensive, and as they contain more and more of our personal information, I get more and more concerned about someone stealing one.ys-vpn

Four of our family's credit cards have been stolen in the last month, so this is not an idle concern.  Personal information is valuable, and losing your phone or tablet or laptop, with your personal and bank information on it could be devastating. Even if nothing is stolen, the inconvenience of not having access to your credit cards for a week while they are being replaced can be significant.

I'm a PC user, so these following suggestions apply mostly to others like me.

I started out by setting up a VPN back to my server.  A VPN is a secure tunnel that prevents snooping eyes from seeing anything you transmit.  Public WiFi, for example at a coffee shop or restaurant, can be monitored, and if someone is sophisticated enough they can steal your personal information that way.  This is a pretty difficult attack, but it has happened.  VPN services wrap your connection in an encrypted tunnel so that a potential attacker only sees the outside of the tunnel and cannot see what you're sending down the tunnel.

You can look for VPN services on the web.  Torrentfreak has an excellent discussion of the issues.  You can also look through the various cruiser forums for discussions on VPN technology.  ActiveCaptain has been running articles on web security for cruisers for several years now. 

Some of these services are free, but I would not trust any free VPN service.  A “free” service makes money by selling personal information about you — exactly what you want to prevent.  Many of these VPN services are based outside the U.S., so that they are not subject to U.S. laws.  Typically, European countries have laws in place that protect individual privacy more than U.S. laws.

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The Prey control screen. It correctly located my devices in my house. The laptop is on the dinner table and the phone and tablet are in the living room.

So I have a VPN tunnel.  But still, that does no good if someone steals the entrance to the tunnel — the gadget itself, like my phone or laptop.  I started looking at various ways to locate, monitor, and disable my devices if stolen.  My needs were pretty simple.  I want to be able to find and recover the device quickly, and if I can't find it I want to be able to wipe all data from it.  I looked at various services.  Many are aimed at large commercial users, and are not suitable for individuals and families.  Others have horrible reviews.  Still others are price-prohibitive.  I ended up with Prey (https://preyproject.com).  Prey runs on all my devices, and all my operating systems: Android, linux, and Windows.  It has a client for iOS, but Apple imposes some restrictions on what Prey (or any similar software) can do.

Prey has a limited free account that lets you track three devices.  The biggest limitation of the free account is that if your device is stolen, you only get one location every 10 minutes, and it keeps a limited number of reports.  The paid account gives you a location report every 2 minutes and keeps extensive location reports.  Once reported stolen, it prevents the device from being turned off.  You can also send it a wipe signal, which will wipe all personal data off the device.

And you can tell the phone or tablet to make lots and lots of noise.  This is useful for when it's stolen.  It's also useful when the device is misplaced; you can buzz it and it will set off a siren regardless of the volume setting.

For platform specific solutions, look to Apple's “Find my iPhone” or “Find my iPad” app which does an amazing job of locating your device and enabling you to sound alerts or wipe it clear of all information should it be stolen or lost, and Google's Device Manager, which does the same thing.