Safe wi-fi when you travel (you know you want it)
Using wi-fi safely when you travel is like your (probably unrequited) lust for the object of your adolescent desire in high school. You have been told not to go there; it isn’t safe. But your hormones are urging you down the path to self-destruction.
We all want wi-fi all the time and for free. We know it’s risky and we have been told to stay away. It may not be hormones drawing us to free wi-fi; it’s more of an addiction. And we all know how good advice is at ending addiction.
So we’re going to be the parents who fear you’re going to sleep with the wrong person but we at least tell you how to protect yourself. It isn’t a perfect approach but it does have reality on its side.
Before you leave take steps for using wi-fi safely when traveling
Before we go any further we want to reassure you that we got our advice for this post from a bona vide expert instead of making it up as we usually do. We interviewed Shaun Murphy, CEO of SNDR.com and a noted cybersecurity expert. We don’t know why he agreed to speak with us either.
Before leaving home you should check to be sure any devices – computer or phone – that you are taking have full data encryption. If you have a Mac you need to be sure FileVault is enabled and, for Windows, Bitlocker is the easiest option. You can just Google how to check to see if you have one of these in place and, if not, how to install it. It’s so easy a Blonde can do it.
You should also set up dual authentication on any accounts where you have the most need for safety when using wi-fi. Here think of your bank account and that email account of embarrassing drunken messages from a regrettable period in your life. If it would damage you financially or in terms of your reputation lock it up as well as you can. (Reference Anthony Weiner as a cautionary tale.)
What to do to use wi-fi safely when you travel
Use your own carrier
The safest thing to do is to buy an international plan from your existing carrier. Prices vary greatly as shown in this article. Don’t automatically assume low prices have coverage as good as higher-priced plans. If you already have a contract then the coverage is what it is but if you’re considering a new provider do research first on coverage.
The main reason wireless carriers are your best bet is because they are under great scrutiny on the services they provide, unlike the wi-fi operators you will encounter when you travel.
It’s also to your advantage if your carrier uses LTE for coverage where you’re going. There isn’t yet an easy answer as this technology is being transitioned to on different timelines for different carriers. I checked to be sure AT&T has it in Russia where I’m going and you will need to do a similar search on your plans.
Why do you care? Because LTE is a very secure cellular technology but the older ones, GSM/GPRS, have known flaws that hackers can easily exploit.. LTE is safe from those types of attacks. (That’s worth keeping in mind in Russia.)
If you get a plan from your carrier follow these steps to contain your costs.
- Disable email auto-check – Change your email account setting from “Push” to “Fetch” so that you only download it when you want it.
- Avoid steaming content because it’s a data hog
- Before you leave learn how to track your data usage so you don’t incur additional costs; your carrier may automatically let you know when you’re hitting limits.
- Manage your apps that track you by location. It’s a way to make it harder for Vladimir Putin to find you and it also doesn’t eat your data allowance. These are usually apps like weather, GPS, social media or video chatting.
- When you don’t want to be accessing your plan, turn off data roaming.
- Use other sources of wi-fi when they are available and you follow our advice below.
If you want to use available wi-fi safely when you travel
You shouldn’t use free wi-fi if it’s too easy and lets anyone use it.
When you can access wi-fi that doesn’t have a password that’s bad, not good. And if it does have a password it isn’t a good thing if it’s available to anyone; taped on the register or otherwise in plain sight. For one thing, who wrote that password there? A bad guy?
If you have to ask a waiter, the front desk or someone at the location to give you the password that’s best.
Shaun says there’s a new thing called PassPoint that is starting to roll out in select places, New York City for example, and it will be a big improvement for security. So if you see an option that says PassPoint get on that network if possible.
Use a different browser than the one you use at home. As one of the 13 Safari users in the world, Blonde will switch to using Chrome when she travels. She has probably a hundred stored passwords in Safari and none in Chrome. So if a bad guy does tap into a session at least he won’t have access to all of her passwords, usernames and form data.
Before visiting a site type in the address beginning with https. If you do so and a lock icon appears next to the website address and it’s green without any warning signs, then you’re engaging in safe browsing. But if a warning appears saying the site is not secure then close out and don’t go there again on that network. Even if you really want to. That warning may very well mean that network traffic on the site is being watched or modified in some unsavory way.
This will break the hearts of app developers the world over, but don’t use apps when you travel. Sign in to the services via a browser. So yes, tweet from Twitter.com not the app and same with Facebook. If you can only use an app, say with Instagram, then you’re going to have to evaluate how immediately everyone needs to see your selfie at the Eiffel Tower. Make them wait.
The reason apps are getting short shrift here is because, as Shaun says; “You have no way of knowing with most apps if they are using a secure connection over a network. Web browsers have gone under intense scrutiny for banking, commerce, and other very sensitive transactions. An App was probably rushed out the door as quickly as possible without any concern for your privacy or security”. ( Shaun also said there’s no Santa Claus.)
Cheat sheet for using wi-fi safely when you travel
We hope you will never know how much this post saved you from identity theft or other cyber-hacking.
It’s the least you can do and it’s possible he’s monitoring you and knows if you’re doing it.