Access to the internet when traveling is essential. The majority of us want to be able to access travel booking details, grab an Uber, reviews of local attractions and restaurants, local maps and social media almost as soon as we land abroad. And if like most, you worry about roaming changes, you’ll be tempted to hop onto the local Wi-Fi hotspot. However, this may not always be the best idea.
Recent research suggests that we are less cautious when using the internet from our mobile devices compared to our computers. You may know about the security risks associated with unsecured open Wi-Fi networks (where a hacker can potentially see your passwords, emails etc) but you may be surprised to learn that paid, password-protected networks put us at risk too.
The main risks are having your online movements tracked via the network you’re logged on to or being tricked into using a fake hot spot which mimics the name of a legitimate one.
Here are some steps you can take to help keep you protected:
Step 1: Make sure you’re connecting to the correct Wi-Fi network.
Don’t assume that a hot spot is real just because the name that pops up in your phone looks correct. If you’re at a hotel or café, ask a manager to confirm the name of its network.
Step 2: Make sure the network is encrypted.
In addition to making sure that the Wi-Fi network you’re connecting to is locked and password protected, while online try and stay on encrypted channels by using the website prefix https (rather than http).
Step 3: Turn off Wi-Fi when you’re not using it.
Switch off your wireless connection when you’re not using it. This not only makes you less vulnerable it will also help preserve the battery life on your phone.
Step 4: Always use strong and varied passwords.
Make your passwords difficult to hack and unique (it’s astonishing how many people use Password123). By keeping your passwords varied, if one of them gets stolen it can’t be used to unlock other accounts. If you have trouble remembering all the different passwords consider using a digital password manager from a reputable provider.
Step 5: Set up software security for your phone.
Don’t forget that your mobile device, like your computer, is vulnerable to malicious software, especially if it’s an Android. There are plenty of good mobile security and antivirus apps for smart phones available to choose from.
Step 6: Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
There is still a possibility that someone will intercept your transmissions even if you’re on a password protected network. For absolute privacy, you can use a VPN service, which in simple terms creates a network-within-a-network which is only used by you. You can purchase this service from providers who will route all your traffic through a private connection in exchange for a monthly or annual fee.
Step 7: Check your mobile carrier, and maybe buy a data bolt-on
Your mobile phone network is often the most secure option, so before you travel abroad it’s worth checking whether you will be able to purchase affordable access with a data roaming package. Many mobile networks offer a daily fee to take your calls+data package abroad with you (such as Vodafone’s Passport package in Europe, and their World Traveller package); and some networks such as 3 offer completely free roaming in many countries worldwide. This means that you can use your home data allowance when travelling, as well as making calls and texts without incurring additional fees. It also means that your mobile data will be always on – much better than hunting for Wi-Fi!
Always take these safety precautions when using public Wi-Fi, but also check to see how cheap your mobile data plan actually is.
By taking your calls and data plan with you when you travel, it means that you’ll also still be able to make your cheap international calls using your regular DialAbroad access number – saving on the cost of booking those restaurant reservations, and staying in touch with friends and family, like normal.
So, from a security and potentially also from a cost perspective, it’s often best to stick to your mobile network carrier when travelling!