Beware the Public Wi-Fi Network: 6 Ways to Practice Cybersecurity While Traveling

A man holding a laptop looks at a departure schedule. Practicing cybersecurity while traveling is important for all devices.

When touching down in a foreign country, the first thing many travelers do is connect to the airport’s Wi-Fi to get caught up on news, posts and messages they missed in the air. However, NordVPN, a virtual private network provider, urges travelers to think twice about cybersecurity.

A survey conducted by the company found that one in four tourists have been hacked on the way to their vacation. According to Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, travelers using public networks at airports, bus stations and railways are easy targets for hackers. “It is typical to scroll through your phone while waiting for a flight or train,” he says. “However, when on vacation, people tend to forget about their online security.”

To keep personal and corporate data safe, try these cybersecurity tips when traveling abroad.

1. Disable Automatic Network Connections

While many devices already have this setting disabled, it’s good practice to make sure your phone won’t join a Wi-Fi network without you knowing. Your device may also join a malicious “evil twin” network, hotspots set up by hackers made to look like legitimate public networks, when in reality they can steal personal data, credentials and browsing history just from a connection.

To check your automatic connection settings in the iPhone settings menu, click on “Wi-Fi” and scroll to the bottom. In Android phones, go to the “Network & Internet” tab, tap on “Wi-Fi” then “Wi-Fi Preferences” and turn off the “Connect to Open Networks” option. Macbooks and laptops running Windows 10 do not have this option.

2. Don’t Enter Credentials on Public Networks

When waiting around in an airport, the temptation is strong to book last-minute activities, additional hotel stays or different flights, but the security around public networks isn’t strong enough to protect any sensitive information you enter. Compromised networks allow hackers to see any credit card data or personal info you fill out through “man-in-the-middle attacks.” With this type of attack, hackers will intercept data the victim sends through the network. To mitigate this risk, book online plans at home or with a more secure hotel Wi-Fi network.

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3. Use a Prepaid Card

Speaking of cards, consider purchasing a prepaid card for your trip abroad. These are totally separate from your bank accounts, keeping them safe in the event of theft. Pickpocketing is common in Europe, with the most frequent sites being Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Madrid and Paris. It is especially frequent in tourist destinations and transit locations. If keeping your wallet in your front pants pocket doesn’t stop a thief, a prepaid card will limit how much money you could potentially lose at once.

4. Mix Up Your Passwords

Password security is a well-known way to keep your data safe. Unfortunately, no matter how complicated your password is, your accounts can be easily compromised if you use the same password across multiple platforms. Hackers conducting man-in-the-middle attacks try the login credentials they steal in many websites to test for access.

Resetting passwords before leaving the country and using multiple passwords can protect your other accounts if one is hacked. If you struggle to remember which login goes where, there are plenty of encrypted password managers (some for both personal and business use) that do the remembering for you.

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5. Buy a Local SIM Card

Depending on how long you’ll be abroad, it may be in your best interest to buy a local SIM card for your phone. Cellular data is encrypted and more reliable than public Wi-Fi networks, eliminating the risk altogether. Many providers have low-cost monthly tourist plans that give you plenty of calls, texts and data. If your phone allows you to change SIM cards, a trip to an airport or train station phone store is all you need. Certain cellular contracts keep your phone locked to your home country’s SIM, but there are plenty of mobile hotspot devices you can find that will give you a secure network anywhere you go.

Buying a local SIM card is different wherever you travel. Check out this comprehensive guide on where to find mobile data in the most popular countries for tourism.

6. Download a VPN App

Many people are familiar with the benefits of using a virtual private network, or VPN, on a computer. Access to worldwide streaming libraries and privacy are just a few features of most VPNs, but did you know that you can have this security on your phone? Using a VPN is the most reliable way to protect your device from man-in-the-middle attacks, evil twin networks and similar common hacking strategies. If you have to use a public Wi-Fi network, a VPN app can keep your data safe from those preying on tourists. According to a study by NordVPN, more than 78% of people don’t use a VPN while traveling.

Some of the most popular and affordable VPN apps for travel are NordVPN, Surfshark, PureVPN, Atlas VPN and IPVanish.

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