Using public WiFi can pose a number of cybersecurity risks if you don’t take the right precautions, and traveling abroad usually means relying on insecure networks. Even paid, password-protected networks can be risky, especially if you’re using multiple devices.
Public WiFi networks are the easiest place for hackers to attack people because security is extremely limited and lacks encryption – even when the network is hosted by an established business. To ensure maximum cybersecurity as you travel, here are some dos and don’ts for using WiFi in a foreign country.
DON’T: Connect to Suspicious Networks
It’s not always easy to spot a potentially dangerous network, as hackers will often establish networks that appear similar to the legitimate ones provided by companies. These false networks can work just like normal networks but will steal your information as you browse the Internet. Ask an employee for the business’ full network name before you connect to a public hotspot, and ensure it’s identical to the one you connect to.
DO: Enable a Firewall
Firewalls act as barriers to potentially destructive elements and prevent others from gaining access to your computer without authorization. Turn on a firewall before connecting to any public network.
DON’T: Use Sites Requesting Sensitive Information
Avoid managing your bank account on public WiFi connections, as hackers can gain access to your personal information and commit fraudulent activity on your accounts. Even with the right security procedures in place, you’re never totally secure. It’s not worth putting your financial security at risk if you can avoid it.
DO: Diversify Your Passwords
Having the same password for most of your online accounts may be convenient, but it also leaves you more vulnerable to attacks. People spying on public networks can learn your password and gain access to several of your accounts, so mix up your passwords a bit before you visit another country. Your passwords are most secure when they are long and contain a variety of characters.
DON’T: Use Unencrypted Sites
Sites with “HTTPS” at the beginning of the URL encode your information and are therefore less interesting to hackers. If it doesn’t have the “S” at the end, it’s not secure – so avoid using it as much as possible. Stick with encrypted HTTPS sites instead while surfing the Web on a public WiFi network. One thing to note is that not every website comes with HTTPS encryption, so you might want to use an extension like HTTPS Everywhere to make sure you are redirected to the HTTPS site whenever possible.
DO: Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs give you the security benefits of a private network while you’re connected to a public network. They mask your IP address, making it harder for phishers to access your information.
DON’T: Leave Your Devices Connected
Just because you’re not using your device doesn’t mean it’s safe from hackers. Immediately disconnect devices from public WiFi networks when they aren’t in use to prevent others from accessing your connection and data. It’s also a good idea to disconnect all of your devices even when you temporarily stop using a network. For example, if you’re at an airport and you take a break from Web surfing to grab a coffee, disconnect your phone from the WiFi.
Tell your device to “forget this network” once you’re finished using it so your device won’t automatically reconnect to it whenever you’re in range. You can do this in your device’s network settings.
DO: Update Software
Your cyber security is stronger when your software is up to date. Running the latest update for your operating system or web browsers may be the reason your data stays protected.
DON’T: Forget About Mobile Devices
Any of your devices can be vulnerable to security threats – not just your computer. Don’t forget to protect your mobile device too while using public WiFi.
DO: Enable Two-Step Authentication
Websites like Facebook and Gmail give you the option to enable two-step authentication. This means you have to enter a security code when trying to access your account from unknown browsers. Ensure you have two-step authentication in place before traveling by editing the account settings for websites you plan to use abroad.
Wherever you’re traveling, remember that how you use the Internet impacts your cyber security. It can be easy to forget about online data protection when you’re enjoying yourself on vacation, but it’s worth spending a little time to ensure you don’t put yourself at risk.