In 2018, the World Economic Forum ranked cyberattacks as the third greatest global threat, with only extreme weather and natural disasters surpassing it. So how can we, as travelers, keep our data safe from hackers, phishing, and ransomware? Here are several steps you can take to keep your data private from potential threats while traveling abroad.
Get a burner
Personal phones these days contain nearly as much, or more, information as our personal computers do. If you can, leave the laptop at home and travel only with your phone, but even better, grab a burner. These would be the lower-end phones (or even laptops) that are cheap enough to purchase just for the trip, and most importantly, contain none of your personal data. You can also consider turning an old cellphone into a burner, using apps like Hushed and Burner, for calls, texts, and messaging. If you must take a laptop, check out Road Affair’s review of the best laptops for traveling. They talk you through some of the ideal ones by price, weight, storage and battery life (and even one at $225).
Back your data up to the cloud
If you have to bring your laptop, back your data up before you leave, remove it from your local drives, and access it only by logging into the cloud. Storing data in the cloud adds an extra layer of security, and will avoid potential threats to your data if your computer is lost or stolen.
Stay away from public wi-fi zones
These are the pop-up zones shown to you when you open wifi, at hotels, airports, and even some city centers. Data is most easily hacked into in these zones, from browsing activity to banking logins. To prevent this risk, there are several things you can do:
- Utilize a VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPNs encrypt your data automatically, and scramble your location, making your browsing nearly impossible to hack. When I’m on the road in Mexico, for instance, my VPN says my computer is in the US. (This, of course, comes in handy when I want to catch up a little Arrested Development on Netflix - without my VPN I’m only seeing those shows with licensing rights in Mexico.) And even the VPN services themselves don’t store data, so there’s no trace of the sites I’ve visited. We’re fans of NordVPN here at Travelous, and CNET also gave a good run-down of the best VPNs of 2019.
- Rent or buy a portable hotspot. Much more secure than public wifi, a portable hotspot can give you secured private wifi, to keep your data safer, and save you money along the way. Portable hotspots such as Skyroam will run you about $9/day, and avoid international roaming fees (and, use the link above for 10% off, using our Travelous discount).
- Finally, stick to the HTTPs sites. The “S” here stands for “secure”, and these sites encrypt the data flowing between the client (you) and the server (your bank, for instance), keeping your transmissions hidden. HTTPs sites do a few things: They encrypt data. So, even if a hacker gets your data somewhere along the path to your bank, they wouldn’t have the key to decrypt. Secure sites authenticate your information, and hackers can’t trick your system into showing you a web page that isn’t the one you were aiming for; potentially opening you up to sharing your banking data with someone other than Wells Fargo.
Use the real thing
If you absolutely must use public wifi zones, make sure you use legitimate ones. Ask the cafe or hotel for the specific spelling of their wifi network, as hackers can try to create nearly identical ones, to trick you into logging into their network instead. For instance, you may be told to use the “Hotel Buenavista” wifi, but see a wifi titled “Hotel Buenavista free wifi”. If the hotel lobby staff didn’t tell you that exact name, avoid it. And, keep your browsing to the bare minimum, skip entering any sensitive data such as credit cards, into a site while on it.
Last but not least, turn off your wifi when it’s not in use. Keeping it open can allow potential hackers a window of access, again possibly allowing access to your data, even when you’re sleeping. Keep your system up to date. One way hackers can tap into your system is through vulnerabilities in operating systems and apps. Updating programs patches & holes make it harder for hackers to find a way in.