Five Ways to Practice Online Security While on Vacation
One mistake travelers tend to make on vacation is letting their guard down when it comes to cybersecurity. Chances are, our home wifi is already fairly secure, and we feel free to pay our bills and do our banking online without any worry.
So you may think nothing of logging into your bank account and paying a few bills while you’re on vacation, or using your laptop in your hotel room to use Facebook and check emails.
Except public wifi hotspots are risky and unsecured at best. They may even be fake networks set up by hackers looking to break into your laptop. If you’re going to use any electronic devices to go online, it’s strongly advisable to follow a few security rules and use a few security tools to ensure your devices and information remain safe.
1. Be VERY Careful About Strange Wifis
Free hotel, restaurant, and airport wifi networks are notoriously unsecure, and you’re at risk just by logging into one. Never do anything with your finances or share personal information on an unsecure network without a VPN (see below). Even networks that require a password are still not very secure, so additional protection is important.
Worse yet are the fake networks set up to trick you into logging on. For example, if you’re staying at a Holiday Inn, you might expect to see HolidayInn as your network of choice. But perhaps there’s also a **HolidayInn** network. So you choose the second one, thinking it’s also safe. Except it’s not.
If you’re not sure which one to use, ask someone who works at the establishment (hotel, restaurant, etc.) and alert them to the fake network as well. And if you still don’t trust the networks, use the Personal Hotspot feature on your phone or get a personal hotspot from your mobile provider.
2. Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a group of computers networked together and locked down to prevent outside intrusion, as well as encrypting and securing communications. When you connect to a VPN, your computer exchanges trusted keys with a server in the network, so you can protect all your communications. If you use public wifi at all, you need a VPN, period.
There are dozens of free and paid VPN services available. I’m partial to VPN Unlimited, and took advantage of one of their special offers to get lifetime coverage for one payment of $36 (it’s usually $72 per year). Keep an eye on StackSocial.com for the best deals.
3. Get a Good Antivirus Program
It’s easier than you think to pick up a computer virus or three while you’re on a different wifi network. This is where a good virus program is going to earn its keep. There are plenty of paid and free tools available that do a great job of keeping unwanted malware off your devices. Just make sure you keep it up to date.
I’m partial to the free Avast virus checker, which is also available for phone and tablet. It not only checks files that I download, but its Chrome plugin also checks out web pages I’m about to visit. It has blocked me from visiting infected sites and saved me from a lot of hassle.
4. Make Sure You Use a Secure Web Browser
One problem with web browsers is that some of them are very unsecure and prone to attacks. This has been a problem with Internet Explorer for years, and even though Microsoft is doing their best to fix it, they still have so many problems, it’s just dangerous to use it for anything other than downloading a different browser.
I strongly recommend Google Chrome because it’s got a lot of security baked right in, and there are plenty of plug-ins for additional security. I mentioned the Avast plugin already, but there are plugins that warn of phishing attacks from emails, notify you if an unsecure website asks for passwords, and tell you when you’ve repeated passwords from a different website. (Side note: never repeat passwords. If hackers can figure out that first password, they can break into your other sites.)
5. Install a Password Vault
Many people are terrible about passwords. They select their kids’ names or their pets’ names, and think they’re safe when they switch out an ‘@’ for ‘a’ or ‘3’ for ‘e’. The problem is, hackers and crooks have sophisticated software that can not only try a few hundred passwords in a minute, they know all the substitution tricks.
The safer option is to use a random string of letters, numbers, and special characters — like *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq — although they’re nearly impossible to remember. (According to Gibson Research Company, a password like *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq would take “1.34 billion trillion centuries” to break.)
This is where a password storage vault will help. You only need to remember one master password, and the password vault will fill in the proper password whenever you log into a website.
I use 1Password to keep track of my passwords. It works on Mac and Windows, and works on mobile phones and tablets for both Apple and Android. (MasterPass and LastPass are two other strong options.) 1Password also makes plugins that work with Google Chrome and Apple Safari for additional security.
How do you protect your information and devices when you’re at home? Do you follow those same procedures on vacation? Do you have any favorite apps or best practices you follow? Tell us about them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.
Photo credit: picjumbo_com (Pixabay, Creative Commons)