Essential data security tips for your next trip to China

Posted on August 22nd, 2019 by in How-to.


Seeing the Forbidden City is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but traveling to China can put your devices and your personal data at risk. This article explains the steps you can take to protect your privacy.

Vacations to China can be quite the adventure: exotic food, ancient history, and breathtaking wonders. It is also a country that presents a significant risk to your data if you decide to bring your laptop or smartphone with you. While there are basic steps you should take to secure your devices on vacation, China has an extensive mass surveillance system in place. They closely monitor online activity and digital communications, which means you will need to take additional precautions to protect your privacy. This post describes some of the steps you can take to secure your data and put your mind at ease as you travel through the Middle Kingdom. 

How to secure your devices before you go to China

The Chinese government has sponsored numerous cyber espionage campaigns. If they suspect your device could have valuable data on it, they will target it. Cybercrime, in general, is also a large problem in China. So, you should do what you can to limit your devices’ vulnerabilities. Update all your software, putting a priority on your firewall, your antivirus software, and your operating system. You should also delete any programs or apps you do not use. Once you are in China, make sure your Bluetooth and WiFi connections are off if you are not actively using them. This will give attackers fewer potential weak points to exploit. You can also encrypt your device’s hard drive. This encryption makes it theoretically impossible for attackers to access your files even if they gain physical access to your device.

Next, you should do what you can to mitigate the damage attackers could do if they compromise your device. Delete any sensitive files or data you do not want to be exposed, or transfer them to another device that you leave at home.

Once you are in China, do not update your apps using an insecure WiFi connection. Either use a VPN to protect your Internet connection or wait until you are back home. 

Use a VPN

The Chinese government closely monitors the Internet activity of everyone within the country. It also controls access to the outside Internet with the Great Firewall of China. Twitter, Dropbox, YouTube, and many other popular sites are completely blocked. To access these sites or to avoid the government’s surveillance, you will need to use a trustworthy VPN, like ProtonVPN.

The Chinese government takes active measures to detect and block VPN servers. However, Proton VPN has servers that can be accessed from China. By connecting to one of these servers, you can protect your online activity with strong encryption and browse the Internet free of surveillance and censorship.

Use strong, unique passwords

You should always use strong, unique passwords to secure all of your accounts, ideally backed up with two-factor authentication where possible. Using weak passwords or reusing the same password on multiple accounts is one of the biggest cybersecurity mistakes you can make. If you can’t remember all the different passwords for your accounts, you should sign up for a password manager.

To make extra sure your accounts are safe, once you are home you should change the password to any account you accessed while in China. 

Do not access sensitive accounts

Even if you are using a VPN and you have a strong, unique password, you should avoid accessing accounts that contain sensitive information. Examples of these accounts include your work email, your bank account, or any account that is linked to a credit card. 

Be mindful of your devices at all times

The steps listed so far will increase your cybersecurity, but these measures can be bypassed if an attacker gets access to your device. Always ensure your device’s physical security by keeping it with you or at least in your sight at all times. You should not plug your smartphone into a public charging station, nor should you use any USB drives you receive. These actions can let attackers bypass your security measures and directly access your device. 

If you are very concerned, you can wipe your device once you are back home.

Leave your devices at home

These steps will improve your security. However, if you have very sensitive information that you do not want the Chinese government or cybercriminals to access, they still may not be enough. The easiest way to guarantee that your laptop and smartphone will not be compromised in China is to leave them at home. 

If you are traveling for work, many companies will not let you go to China with your work laptop or phone. Larger companies will have special travel laptops and phones that your IT team can lend you. They are set up to provide you with the bare minimum you need to do your work and then to be wiped clean once you return. 

Again, if you are very concerned, you can also buy a simple, pre-paid phone before your trip to use while you are in China. Then throw the phone away before you head back home.

By following these steps, you can travel through China confident that your data is safe. Enjoy your trip!

Best Regards,
The Proton VPN Team

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Prior to joining Proton, Richie spent several years working on tech solutions in the developing world. He joined the Proton team to advance the rights of online privacy and freedom.

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