Summer is just around the corner and many travelers are gearing up to hit the road and explore countries near and far. There are a lot of things you’ll need to consider before traveling internationally, but you may not have considered data protection. Here’s a breakdown of how to avoid common pitfalls while jet-setting around the globe.
1. Before you go
Preparing for international travel is best done in the safety of your home where you’re connected to your secure internet router. Before you head to the airport, make sure you have taken the necessary precautions to avoid any data breaches on your journey. Back up any important electronic files you might be bringing along in case you lose a device along the way. It’s also a smart idea to remove personally identifiable information from your devices that can reveal your location and passwords. Lastly, ensure that your antivirus software is up to date before you enter uncharted Wi-Fi zones abroad.
2. Avoid using public Wi-Fi
Finding free Wi-Fi while traveling abroad may relieve you from paying data fees, but connecting to them may be doing more damage than you think. These public hotspots can be found in restaurants, hotel lobbies or even city centers but it’s hard to tell who’s supplying the internet and what they’re using it for. Hackers can easily create an open hotspot called “Hotel Wi-Fi” for travelers to connect to and go about their business on phones and computers. These password-less networks are not encrypted, meaning that anyone connected can easily access other user’s’ activity.
If you absolutely have to connect to one of these networks for some reason, avoid doing anything sensitive. This activity includes banking, sensitive emails, and anything else you wouldn’t want hackers to have access to. Instead of falling into this trap, rent a portable hotspot that you can trust or use a third-party VPN at the very least.
3. Turn off the auto-join feature
An important caveat about public Wi-Fi is to be aware of the auto-join feature on your various devices. If your device is set to automatically join open networks, you will be connected to various unencrypted public Wi-Fi services without even realizing it. Avoid the possibility of accidental connections by turning off the auto-join feature and manually connecting to encrypted Wi-Fi networks. You can accomplish this by clicking on the Wi-Fi settings in your phone, computer, and tablet. Here’s an easy guide to getting that out of the way.
4. Avoid public charging stations at airports and train stations
The likelihood of these charging stations getting tampered with is low, but that doesn’t mean you should wholeheartedly trust them. These public USB ports can sometimes transmit data, meaning they can send information to a server. “Even when a mobile phone is in ‘charging only’ (locked) mode, it can still transmit the device name, vendor name, and serial number to the system behind the USB port, and more based on the platform and operating system of the phone,” said a spokesperson for Kaspersky Lab, a multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider. Eagers hackers have set up predatory charging stations and tampered with public stations in the past, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. Have some peace of mind and stick to a traditional outlet with your own plug or invest in a USB cable that doesn’t process data.
5. Consider Leaving Your Main Devices at Home
Your everyday phones, tablets, and computers are constantly collecting massive amounts of your personal data and storing it in the cloud. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, you’re putting all the stored data at risk of theft or hacking. So an extra precaution you can take is to just leave these devices at home where your information cannot be violated. Instead, opt for a cheap burner phone and buy a local SIM card to avoid the risks of a serious data breach. Most countries have conveniently located short stay phone providers throughout the city, so finding one shouldn’t take up too much time out of your sightseeing plans.
These precautions will put you one step ahead of other travelers and three steps ahead of any cyber thieves looking to target you. In general, it’s a good idea to be cautious of your surroundings while traveling abroad, and to make sure any network you’re connected to is 100% secure.
By: Hailey Karns
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