Columbia University

Global Travel

Computers and Personal Information

Make Sure Your System is Up to Date

Shortly before leaving the U.S., make sure that your laptop is updated with the latest security and virus patches. This will help ensure that you have the latest protection and help keep you from being slowed down or incurring unnecessary data usage charges from running automatic update while you are connecting remotely.

Wireless Internet/WiFi and Free Internet

If you use an open, free WiFi connection, any information that you enter into a web page — email address, password, data — is at risk. Avoid connecting to any website or service that requires password authentication and is not encrypted. In particular, you should avoid surfing to banking institutions, financial sites or any site that requires use of your credit card.

When you do use a free or open network connection, whether wireless or wired (such as a network cable in a hotel room) the very first thing you should do is to connect to the CU VPN. For instructions on how to download the CU VPN prior to travel, visit the CUIT VPN page. By logging in once you are connected to the VPN, your network traffic will be encrypted and you will be better protected from hackers.

Avoid accessing a sensitive website from any computer that is not yours, such as the public computers available at Internet cafes, libraries or the business centers of hotels. The security of such machines is highly unreliable.

Take Extra Precautions to Safeguard Your Data

Create a full backup of your data before you go. See details on the CUIT Backing-up page.

Avoid carrying any sensitive data unless absolutely necessary. Certain countries may inspect laptops and data upon entry, so you should be careful about proprietary, patentable, or sensitive information that may be stored on your device. Consult with your department's IT personnel about tools to scan your system and find sensitive data so that it can be removed in advance of your trip. Many people are surprised to find that Social Security or credit card numbers have been saved somewhere on their system.

Encrypt any sensitive data if it is essential that you take it with you.  If you have encrypted files, customs officials in some countries (including the U.S.) may require you to decrypt the files for inspection. If possible, you may wish to take an alternate, “clean” computer when traveling to avoid exposing sensitive data to inspection.

Please note that certain encryption software is subject to U.S. export controls.  For additional information, please visit Export Controls for CU International Travelers.

For more detailed information about backup services, encryption and traveling with your laptop and data, please visit the CUIT Handling Personally Identifying Information page.