When was the last time you thought about cybersecurity while traveling?
Cybersecurity firm NordVPN estimates that one in four travelers have been hacked when using public Wi-Fi networks while traveling internationally. That frightening statistic means that many travelers are not protecting themselves online while away from home, and are putting themselves at risk.
The following cybersecurity best practices will help protect you — and your clients — when traveling.
Tip 1: Secure Devices Before Leaving Home
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends that travelers secure any personal devices they will be traveling with before they leave home. This includes backing up electronic files, removing or securing any sensitive data from devices (such as name, address, date of birth and Social Security number), setting up strong passwords and installing or updating antivirus software on laptops.
Tip 2: Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi Connections, Man-in-the-Middle Attacks and Evil Twins
According to Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN, public Wi-Fi connections — including those at airports, train or bus stations, hotels, cafes and more — pose a major risk to travelers. This is because hackers can connect to legitimate public Wi-Fi networks in order to place their device between the user’s device and the Wi-Fi network (this is called a “man-in-the-middle attack”), then snoop on the person’s online activity. This could allow them to steal passwords, credit card details, private emails and other personal information.
Hackers can also set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots (called “evil twins”) that look like legitimate Wi-Fi networks, but actually collect a user’s personal data for the hacker. Markuson says travelers are particularly susceptible to this type of attack because they usually do not know the legitimate Wi-Fi networks of the places they are visiting. He notes that the names of fake Wi-Fi spots might look legitimate, with generic names such as “Guest Wi-Fi” or “Free Hotel Wi-Fi.”
For this reason, Markuson recommends that travelers ask a staff member to give them the exact name and password of the hotel (or restaurant, attraction, etc.) whose Wi-Fi they are using. This can help users avoid connecting to an “evil twin” network.
And remember, hotel Wi-Fi networks may seem safer than other options, but they are often public — and therefore, are still unsecure.
Tip 3: Install a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that protects a user’s internet connection, thereby guarding their privacy online. VPNs work on both computers and mobile devices.
According to Markuson, a VPN “creates an encrypted tunnel for your data, protecting your online identity by hiding your IP address and allowing you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots safely.” Connecting to a VPN before using any public Wi-Fi network is an easy way to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks, though NordVPN research indicates that more than 78% of people do not use a VPN while traveling.
Tip 4: Be Vigilant About Your Surroundings
The FCC advises that travelers keep a close eye on their surroundings when using devices in public places such as airports, hotels and restaurants. Make sure nobody is spying on any screens while electronics are in use, and consider using a privacy screen on laptops so that it’s harder for others to see on-screen information and activity.
Tip 5: Use Extra Caution While Connected
While using public Wi-Fi, the FCC recommends that travelers avoid making online purchases or accessing bank accounts.
“Travelers like to make reservations on the go, which is convenient, especially if you have a lot of free time before catching your flight,” Markuson, who agrees with the advice, said. “However, this makes your data more vulnerable.”
It’s also a good idea to disable automatic connections on devices to avoid accidentally connecting to a public network. This gives users more control over when and where they connect to the internet.
Tip 6: Change Passwords Post-Travel
Since electronics used abroad run the risk of being compromised, the FCC’s advice includes updating security software and changing passwords on all devices once back home.