No matter whether you’re on a simple weekend break or you’re traveling full time, the chances are you’ll have to connect to public WiFi during your trip. Fortunately, public networks have become commonplace in hostels, train stations, airports and even coffee shops, so it’s easy to pick up signal, connect and have your fill of internet access!
Unfortunately, the one downside of this is that connecting to public WiFi can be considerably dangerous. Most people don’t realize, but the nature of these networks is a recipe for disaster if not used with caution. Cybercrime is on the rise, and travelers are some of the most vulnerable of its victims. It’s more important that ever before to ensure you’re using the internet safety and securely.
What Are The Dangers?
The problem with public WiFi is that is allows your data and traffic to be viewed by anyone else on the network. This is because the public nature of the system fails to encrypt your data to other prying eyes. This can be extremely risky as it means sensitive information can easily intercepted. Anytime you log into your accounts—be it Facebook, your email or even your online banking—your password and any details you input can be seen and collected by malicious hackers. In the worst case scenario, this could result in a breach of your bank account and the loss of all your money!
Similarly, if cybercriminals can collect enough details, then they can steal your identity and use it to fraudulently apply for loans and credit, leaving you to pick up the pieces. Falling victim to this is disastrous at anytime, but when traveling, you really don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you can’t access your money! Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.
As criminals have become aware of the weaknesses of public WiFi, many have taken steps to explicitly exploit it. One of the biggest dangers you can come across when traveling and constantly connecting to any network you can find is falling victim to a rogue hotpots. These WiFi points have been set up by malicious hackers in order to specifically collect your data or infect you with malware.
In many places, they will mimic the names of well-known and trusted WiFi networks, such as Starbucks or McDonalds, to encourage users to access and connect to them without reservation. Once you’ve fallen for this trap, you are completely in their hands and any of your online activity could be used maliciously against you. The easiest way to avoid this is to try and stick to networks you trust: use your hostel’s internet or a specific coffee shop, but be sure to ask behind the counter to ensure the networks name before you connect.
One of the simplest steps you can take to overcome the problem is to simply disable auto-connect. Many devices will hop between data-usage and connecting to in-range WiFi networks without you having to ask it, and this puts you at more of a risk than you might realize. If you aren’t controlling when you connect, then you can’t control what data is being shared. This means that any apps you’ve accidentally left running or browser pages you’ve left open are fully accessible to malicious prying eyes.
It also means that you are a lot more likely to find yourself connecting to the previously mentioned rogue hotspots as you can’t be stringent about the WiFi your device chooses to use. Turning off auto-connect is usually a simple process and can be found in the settings menu of your device. Once you’ve taken this step, it’s significantly easier to protect yourself.
Passwords are an essential part of security no matter how you look at it, but when it comes to protecting yourself on public WiFi, they’re essential to avoid complete disaster. One of the things that hackers are looking for when they intercept your traffic is the passwords for your accounts. They guess, quite accurately, that if you’re using a password for one account, then it’s likely you’ll be using it for another.
Through trial and error they can exploit the fact that most of us avoid using long, varied, complex passwords and stick to similar combinations to help us remember them. If your Facebook password is similar to the one you use to access your internet banking, then you are at high-risk of falling victim to attack. By making sure all of your passwords are completely unique, if one is intercepted, then you only risk the cybercriminals gaining access to that specific account, instead of your entire online set-up.
Use a VPN
Finally, but most importantly, the best way to protect yourself on public WiFi is by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Many travelers are already family with these program packages as they’re useful to bypass geo-blocking and access sites such a Netflix when overseas. However, they’re also the best first line of defense when it comes to your online security while traveling.
The way a VPN works is to create an initial secure connection, which mimics a private connection, before connecting to the public network. This initial connection encrypts all of your data and, subsequently, allows you to access the internet both securely and anonymously. There are several different VPN packages on the market, which vary in quality and price range, so depending on your budget, you are sure to find one that will work for you.
The threat of cybercrime should never hold you back from traveling and seeing the world, but it is a problem that we need to start taking seriously. By applying these steps and exercising caution when accessing public WiFi abroad, you can drastically reduce the risk of falling victim to attack and travel in confidence!
Another thing you want to keep in mind is internet restrictions when you use a VPN as you travel abroad. It may not be an issue at all depending on where you go, but something you should be aware of.
If you have any questions about using public wifi safely, ask a question below!
This article on how to safely use public wifi was written by Jess at Tripelo.com. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her website for more related content.