4 Tips to Stay Safe Online While You’re Travelling Abroad
What do you do when you want to use the internet while travelling abroad? Public Wi-Fi networks and internet hotspots seem the obvious solution, but how safe are they really?
Most people will have used public Wi-Fi in cafes, restaurants and hotels without problems, so you may not be aware of the risks associated. So, what can happen if you connect to the ‘wrong’ network without taking precautions to safeguard your data?
- Unencrypted Wi-Fi networks are able to capture user names and passwords, credit card numbers and all sorts of other sensitive information you’ve innocently typed in, thinking the network is safe. If you’re using an unsecured network, there is a real risk of your accounts being compromised and your identity stolen.
- There are no restrictions on anyone being able to set up a hotspot and advertising it to the public as ‘free Wi-Fi’, but with the hidden intention of harvesting data. You may be asked to set up an email address and password to gain access and if, like many people, you use the same email address and password for anything from internet shopping to online banking, you may leave yourself vulnerable to unauthorised access.
While many Wi-Fi hotspots are probably quite safe to use, it’s always worth taking extra security precautions so that your personal data, passwords and credit card numbers are not at risk when you are on an unknown network.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Connecting to a VPN is an excellent way to safeguard data in a public internet environment. With end-to-end encryption provided between your device and the internet, or a corporate network, it’s like a secure tunnel that keeps your data safe from view. VPNs run as software on your tablet or laptop and are connected to fast networks run as major services. They are recommended (see our recommendations here) for all travellers who are concerned about internet security.
If you work for a large employer or multinational corporation, you may already be using a VPN network for connecting to the corporate network. Otherwise, do your homework before signing up to one of the many VPN providers in the marketplace to make sure it offers exactly what you need. Once you’ve signed up, familiarise yourself with how to use the VPN on all your devices before travelling.
Only use known and secure networks
Find out salient information about the network you’re thinking of connecting to. If you’re at the airport hoping to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi there, ask the airport personnel for the network name and log in details.
Networks simply called ‘Free Wi-Fi ‘with no password needed to set up an encrypted connection to your device should be avoided. How to tell if a network uses encryption? There should be a lock icon next to the SSID (network name).
Make sure that any sensitive website access is only via secure (https) connection and that your email program is configured so it only uses encrypted connections.
Don’t use shared computers
Many hotels or café have their own computers for visitors to use – which is very nice of them. However, don’t be tempted to leave your own hardware at home. However much companies may try to keep their guest computers ‘clean’, public computers are always a security risk and often loaded with malware. Much better to bring your own device and use a Wi-Fi network you can trust.
Malware can get past your firewall and onto your hard drive via email attachments, so investing in a malware scanner is an excellent idea. Get a real-time malware scanner that can locate and remove any malware that wants to install itself on your hard drive before it even gets there. And for Goodness Sake, keep the software up to date!
Use your own data connection or personal Wi-Fi hotspot
If you can’t find a trusted Wi-Fi hotspot, you can set up your own. For iPhone and iPad, this is straightforward to do via the Mobile Data / Personal Hotspot option in the Settings menu. You can get a data connection in most well populated locations in the world. iOS will also let you share the data connection through Personal Hotspot, which is handy if you have a Mac laptop too.
Many companies will sell or rent out mobile hotspots equipped with SIMs and prepaid data plans. This means you can travel pretty much anywhere there’s a mobile network and use your own Wi-Fi network.