As the weather warms up, our thoughts can turn to vacation plans and exotic destinations. But the ideal summer hotspot can come with some hidden dangers that might derail any future plans, and many of those threats are online.
Public internet connections over wifi can pose a threat no matter where you are, whether at your local coffee shop or a far-off international locale. Hotel wifi connections, from the seediest dive to even the most upper crust five-star resort, can be filled with malicious activity that threatens your finances and your data. Even worse, most portable devices are able to reconnect to a previous wifi connection just by arriving in the vicinity, meaning not only do you not know who else is on the connection and able to see your content, but you may not even be aware you’re connected.
There are a few key ways to protect yourself from public wifi dangers when you travel, some of them simple and free, others involving a little know-how and some investment.
1. Turn off your Wifi
If you’re traveling with a handheld device like a smartphone or tablet, it’s a good idea to keep your wifi turned off in your settings unless you’re actively using it. First of all, it will help your battery life by not having your device constantly searching for a connection. More importantly, you will know that you’re not connected to the internet when you’re not trying to use it.
For most major devices, turning your wifi on and off is really easy: just swipe your finger down or up (depending on the make and model) from any screen, trying to “grab” the hidden menu above or below. There will be a button that looks like an antenna sending out a signal, and simply tapping that should turn it on and off.
2. Think Before Connecting To Public Charging Stations
Speaking of saving battery life…using a public USB port or outlet might be putting your identity at risk. Public charging stations aren’t like lamp posts where you just use its electricity, rather when you plug in your device, data can be sent back through the cord and hackers can gain access. It’s best to keep your phone fully charged before you head out or rely on a portable battery pack.
3. Travel with an Ethernet-enabled device
If you know you’re going to need the internet while you’re away, such as for work or checking in with family back home, a laptop with an Ethernet port can let you connect in your hotel room in the same way your modem or router are connected at home. It looks like an oversized telephone jack, and while you still don’t know who else is using it, it’s a little safer than a public wifi connection when it comes to keeping hackers out.
4. Use a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a good idea to have anyway, no matter where you are. It acts like a private tunnel onto the internet and can help keep hackers from watching your activity or tracking your content. This is really important for something like checking your bank balance or transferring money from one account to another, especially at times when you do have to use public wifi.
However, when you’re traveling (especially to a foreign country), a VPN can not only keep others from seeing what you’re doing, but it can also let you connect to sites “back home” that may be blocked in other countries due to licensing agreements.
5. Invest in a Hotspot
Of all the options, this one is the costliest, but it comes in a range of prices. If you travel frequently or work away from your desk, it can provide peace of mind and the convenience of always having an internet connection handy. A personal hotspot is available in both prepaid options and contract options through many major cellular service providers. Prepaid options, as the term implies, may cost more per use because you’re only paying as you need it, while a contract plan, just like your cell phone plan, may be more cost effective in the long run if you’ll use it routinely.
No matter how you choose to connect while traveling, remember that some internet behaviors are “safer” than others. A quick scan of your Facebook might not be all that risky, but logging into your online banking over a public wifi connection could leave the door wide open for a hacker. It’s safer to save any sensitive internet activity for when you return home…and after you’ve gotten the most out of your vacation!
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530.