Wifi is hot, it’s everywhere, and it’s growing exponentially as consumers start to demand the free service at airports, hotels, cafes, city parks, and even trains and buses.
But if you’re planning a vacation or travel frequently for business, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to avoiding hacking in your hotel room or identity theft at the airport.
Bang-Ups and Hang-Ups
It takes a mix of common-sense strategies and proactive measures, but that doesn’t mean you should hide in your house and never step foot in an airport or hotel again either. As the wise Dr. Seuss would advise, “be sure when you step, step with care and great tact and remember that life’s a great balancing act.”
So in order to prevent getting mixed up with any strange birds — cybercriminals trying to steal your identity or hack into your bank account — remember the following strategies for staying safer while traveling and using unsecured wireless networks.
1. You’re Off to Great Places: Before You Go
- Disable geo-tracking. Check out http://www.icanstalku.com to learn how to disable the geo-tracking feature on your smartphone.
- Use a strong password on your mobile phone or laptop. Passwords are good privacy features in the event you misplace your bag while traveling.
- Learn your phone’s ESN. Record the electronic serial number so that if the phone is lost or stolen, you can immediately alert your phone’s network operator and easily file a report with the local police department.
- Just say “no” to that status update. Don’t broadcast to your 743 “friends” on Facebook that you’re leaving for a week’s vacation.
2. Step With Care and Great Tact: On the Road
- Think VPN. Many people – especially business travelers – use a laptop with a built-in wireless card. Even more people tap into free wifi in public hotspots at airports and cafes. Keep in mind that most of those networks are completely unsecured. Download a virtual private network like PRIVATE WiFi™ so that you are protected no matter where you access the Internet.
- Think personal router. In addition to the VPN, you can also pack a small router to keep your laptop safer while using a wireless Internet connection. Simply set up the router as a secure “sub network” of the wireless network that you are using.
- Look for the “s” in HTTPS. Remember that if you’re surfing online in an unencrypted wifi hotspot, everyone around you can easily tap into what you’re doing unless you visit sites that have the “s” in the URL address. This is especially important if you’re using login information or passwords, doing any online shopping, or performing any personal or financial transaction online.
- Watch out for shoulder surfers. These are people in a hotel lobby or at the airport waiting gate who might sit unnecessarily close to you in the hopes of spying on your personal information.
3. Never Forget to Be Dexterous and Deft: At the Hotel
- Don’t check email on a hotel’s public computer. It may seem convenient to use a public computer in your hotel lobby, but even visiting HTTPS websites won’t guard you from getting your password stolen, or from being the victim of spyware or key-logging programs. If you must use a public computer, remember to clear the cache and login settings.
- Don’t let your guard down in your hotel room. Unfortunately, you are no safer once you arrive in your hotel room. You might think you’re safe within the walls of your hotel room, but the minute you log on to the Internet you are potentially exposing yourself to privacy violations, identity theft, and a host of other cybercrimes you can’t even see happening. A hotel’s cable connection is no safer than its wifi connection, in fact, so the only way to protect yourself in hotels is to use a VPN.
Don’t let these steps overwhelm you while traveling. Even implementing just a handful of these steps on your next trip is a smart approach, though you ultimately want to remember that cybercriminals strike when you least expect it.
Have you ever noticed anything fishy after logging into a public network at a hotel or airport? Would you even know if you’ve ever been the victim of a cybercriminal or hacker intent on accessing any of your online accounts? What steps do you take to be vigilant while traveling?