While technology can be a great blessing to our personal and ministry lives, it also carries a built-in burden. The laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc., that make much of our daily life easier store valuable personal, financial, and transactional data about us. When data of this type finds itself in the wrong hands, bad actors can use it against us in ways that can cause harm and inconvenience. The state of the world dictates that whether we travel across the street, across the country, or to more distant lands, we must always be attentive to the security and protection of our devices and data.
The need for vigilance is even more pronounced when we go out and share the Gospel on short-term mission trips to countries in which we are the foreigner. In some countries and cultures, varying ethical standards and views toward property apply. In these situations, we must remain mindful that our laptops and technological devices are like red flashing neon signs that signal “opportunity.” Our computers, phones, jewelry, cameras, and other accessories are glaring reminders to some locals that we are outsiders that they can target. Of course, this should not stop us from serving, but we must be wise and alert to the potential dangers.
To keep our data and technology safe, we must assume that our devices are constantly being watched and monitored and that there is no secure place to set up and interact with confidential information sources such as bank accounts, personal email, and routine billing sites, etc. People going on mission trips often wrangle internally about whether to take their laptops, tablets, or smartphones.
First and foremost, if possible, we highly recommend not taking your laptop or tablet on your short-term mission trip.
If you are required to carry a laptop/tablet, or it is necessary for your role on the trip, we recommend you take a cheap, loaner laptop/tablet with zero information stored. Therefore, if it is lost, stolen, or confiscated, it will minimize the expense, loss, and risk. One kind gesture that many of our clients make is take an “end-of-life computer” and donate it to the church or mission hosts.
Second, pay your bills and transact any other necessary business before leaving on your mission trip to alleviate the need to access any of your sensitive accounts while on the trip.
Scheduling or paying your bills before departure will not only help with keeping your mission trip as the priority, but it will also keep you out of logging into any of the sites that may reveal your full name, home address, social security number, bank information, etc.
Below we have included some essential suggestions that should enhance your security if you find it necessary to take your technology devices to the mission field. Indeed, this is not a definitive list, and the list is ever-changing, but this should provide a helpful start to keep your computer and its data safe.
BASIC PHYSICAL TIPS:
- Consider a locking laptop bag. (While someone can always steal your bag, this will prevent someone from quickly removing the laptop from your bag without your notice.
- Utilize a privacy screen on the monitor.
- Protect your laptop with a case, sleeve, and padded laptop bag.
- Make sure you have the appropriate power adapter/converters.
- Remove all data stored locally on your computer—for example, un-sync local copies of OneDrive, Dropbox, etc.
- Consider your passwords carefully; they should be strong and different for every account (no repeats).
- Implement Multi-Factor Authentication on every account you can.
- Implement full-disk encryption on your hard drive.
- Utilize a VPN.
- Ensure that you have backed up your data before leaving the United States.
- Ensure your computer contains all up-to-date operating system and application patches/fixes.
- Ensure the antivirus is up to date.
- Consider using web-based applications instead of locally installed applications, i.e., Outlook, Word, and Excel.
- Use privacy-focused applications, i.e., Brave, ProtonMail, DuckDuckGo.
- Disable Bluetooth on the laptop and leave all Bluetooth devices at home.
- Disable Wi-Fi on the laptop when you are not using it.
If you choose to take a mobile device with you on your short-term mission trip, we also recommend purchasing a prepaid phone with zero data stored on the device.
If you have a long-term mission where you may need your standard mobile device, you may also consider the following:
Back up your data beforehand.
Ensure Pins/Passcodes on the device are strong – Biometrics such as facial recognition or fingerprint is not necessarily the strongest.
Consider turning Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/NFC off when not in use.
Do not download any apps; be extra cautious while on public Wi-Fi.
Do not use public Wi-Fi to access accounts or make purchases where financial information is involved.
If you need to access sensitive data while traveling, prepare to store it in the cloud (encrypted). Sign out of the cloud account, and delete any applications or evidence of the account while traveling. Only access what you need (not on public Wi-Fi) after you’ve reached the destination.
Use encrypted calling/texts such as the application “Signal.” Available on Android and iPhone.
Install a mobile antivirus and anti-spyware/malware application with up-to-date definitions.
Run spyware/malware/antivirus scans regularly for signs of compromise.
Again, if possible, Enable Ministry Partners highly recommends you do not take your personal laptop or any technology devices containing sensitive information when traveling to a mission field. Of course, we know this is not always possible. But the most cautious approach may be your best option in this age when cyber threats are increasing.
If you plan on taking technology devices with you, we recommend printing this list for all your missionaries and putting it into practice on your next trip. You can find the free printable list HERE.
Written by: Sean Bowen, Strategy Consultant