The reality of public WiFi and Internet cafes
When traveling it’s convenient to use public WiFi hotspots in places like airports and restaurants, but 52% of people say they are concerned about the security and privacy of public WiFi, and rightly so. Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor at F-Secure Labs, says that public WiFi networks should be thought of as just that: public. Because you’re sharing the network with strangers, there’s the risk that someone is using readily available software that snoops on what you’re doing.
“It may feel private because you’re using your personal device, but it’s not,” Sullivan says. He advises against doing anything via public WiFi that you wouldn’t want an eavesdropper to know – including logging into accounts with passwords. “I use public WiFi happily for a topic I would discuss with a friend on the metro. Banking, I do at home,” he says.
The same goes for using public computers in places like libraries or Internet cafes. Sullivan recommends using them only for doing innocuous things like reading the news, as password-stealing spyware could be hosted on the machine.
If you must use public means to communicate with loved ones, one tip is to create a separate vacation email account that you’ll use only while on holiday. “That way if someone hacks your vacation email account, they might see emails with your mom and the cat sitter, but they won’t have access to the other sensitive data that would be in your main email account,” he says.
Banking away from home
85% of people say they do online banking from their computers, and 24% from their smartphones. So what if you absolutely must make a transaction while on vacation? It’s probably best to use your mobile data plan with your bank’s mobile app, even if it means roaming a bit. It may cost more but it’s cheaper than getting your account cleaned out.
But banks use https connections, so aren’t they safe even through public WiFi? Usually, but it’s important to be aware of other factors as well. 39% of people report to using just one or a few passwords for all their accounts. So potentially, if you use the same password at an unsecured site that you use at your bank’s secure one, a snoop could access your bank account too. Snoopers also use low-tech methods, simply peeking over your shoulder as you enter a password.
Keeping your content safe on the go
67% of people value the content on their device more than the device itself, illustrating the importance of taking backups before leaving on a trip. Or by using a content synchronization service that removes the need to take along clunky storage devices, and make it easy to safely and privately share photos with friends while on holiday.
Locating a lost or stolen device
A lost or stolen phone puts a damper on a vacation. And with 61% of people using their devices for both work and private purposes, there is extra reason to be cautious. A lost phone could impact not just your own data, but also your organization’s. Make sure your phone’s password-protected screen lock kicks in after just a short amount of time, like one minute.
Tips for good public WiFi hygiene:
- Don’t let your device connect to public WiFi spots automatically.
- Delete out the WiFi access points you’ve used when you arrive home.
- Don’t be logged into apps you don’t need while traveling.
- Check with the establishment you’re at to make sure the network you log onto is really theirs, and not one a snoop has set up to trick you.
- Be aware of your surroundings and anyone who could be trying to peek over your shoulder.
- Use a unique password for each account.
- For laptops, disable file sharing and turn on the firewall, setting it to block incoming connections.
- Use a VPN if possible, which secures your connection even on public WiFi.
- Use a travel router with a prepaid SIM card for your own personal WiFi network.
- At the very least, watch for the padlock and “https” in the address bar for any site with your personal information. If they’re not there, avoid the site.
- A good general rule: Assume anything you do over public WiFi is part of a public conversation.