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Going on a solo trip, an all-inclusive business trip, or a romantic getaway with your partner abroad any time soon? Sounds exciting, and I’m happy for you. But to really enjoy it, make sure you’re 110% prepared. And I’m not just talking about packing your phone charger, toiletries, and that really cute skirt.
I’m also referring to keeping your data safe across the border. A lot of things can actually go wrong, and they can ruin your adventure in a heartbeat.
Wait – What Kind of Threats Are We Talking About?
A lot of bad things can happen if you’re not careful, but let’s focus on the most common risks you might deal with:
Fake & Unsecured WiFi Networks
Hackers can actually use a device like the WiFi Pineapple (only costs $200) to set up a fake WiFi network that imitates legit ones (airport, hotel, coffee shop networks, etc.). Once you accidentally connect to it, the person who runs it can log your traffic to steal sensitive data like credit card numbers, personally identifiable information, personal notes, and risqué selfies. Even worse, they might use that data to track you online and harass you.
And unfortunately, even legit WiFi networks are not 100% safe. That’s because many of them don’t use any encryption. While that is convenient for you since you can connect without needing a password, it’s convenient for hackers too since they can monitor all your traffic – just like they do on fake networks. They just need a packet sniffer like Wireshark, and they’re good to go.
Sometimes you just have to use a public computer on the spot to check something online. Understandable, but also very risky.
Because hackers love to infect public computers with keyloggers – especially the ones at hotels. Basically, it’s malware that logs all your keystrokes, helping cybercriminals find out what your login credentials are.Also, if you’re going abroad to attend conferences (either for work or entertainment), you might be offered free USB sticks at the entrance to the venue. The people offering them might claim they contain free “goodies” or so when – in reality – they’ll contain malware that will take over your device the moment you plug the USB in it.
Sometimes, the USBs might actually be legit, with the organizers making it clear they’ll offer free USBs. Even then, cybercriminals might manage to infect some of the legit USBs with malware – just like it happened at an IBM conference.
Cool name, right?
Well, the act itself definitely isn’t. Basically, it’s when a stranger who sits next to you or behind you takes a peek at your mobile or laptop screen. And they’re not doing that just to see what story you’re gonna post on Instagram (though they might if they’re a creep). No, they normally do that to catch glimpses of your passwords, credit card info, and bank account PINs. Stuff like this tends to happen in very crowded places, like tourist traps, airport lines, airplanes, or even buses.
Bluetooth comes in handy when you need to share files between devices very fast without using mobile data – like a selfie, PDF train ticket, or work document. However, it also has serious vulnerabilities that endanger your data. Hackers were previously able to abuse Bluetooth to silently take over mobile devices. What’s more, Bluetooth also had a vulnerability that allowed cybercriminals to orchestrate MITM attacks.And more recently, new research showed that Bluetooth is vulnerable to a brute-force attack called KNOB. Not the best name for something so serious, I know.
Here’s a short list of simple things you can do to make sure nobody gets their hands on your sensitive info:
It’s pretty much a no-brainer. Since Bluetooth is so risky, you should disable it. Now I’m not saying you should never use Bluetooth again. Just that you should use it for quick transfers, and not keep it turned on when you’re not using it. As for forgetting WiFi networks, it’s a safe way to avoid accidentally connecting to fake hotspots. Your phone might be smart, but not smart enough to tell SSIDs apart. So, just turn off that feature to force your devices to “forget” WiFi networks so that they don’t reconnect to them when you’re in range.
If you’re not sure how to do that, here are some guides:
A privacy screen is your best defense against shoulder surfing. It makes it pretty much impossible for someone to sneak glances. To see your screen, they’d need to stand exactly in your position. VistaProtect and PanzerGlass are some pretty decent options.
Besides getting a privacy screen, you should also be a bit proactive. For example, if you are in a crowded area and need to check your device, go find a quieter spot. Also, try to stand with your back to the wall (a corner is pretty ideal). It feels weird, I know, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
A VPN is just what you need when you go abroad. It’s an online service that hides your IP address, and also encrypts all your Internet traffic. So, whenever you go online, you don’t need to worry about anyone spying on your online communications. If they try to take a look, they’ll just see HTTPS traffic. Yep, even if you accidentally connect to a fake network.
Need help finding a good VPN? Well, my personal recommendation is the CyberGhost VPN service. It’s cheap, has 5,000+ servers, uses Automated HTTPS, and has decent encryption. Follow the link I left if you want to learn more about it.
Since public computers are such a huge target for hackers, it makes sense to avoid them. The same goes for free USB sticks – even if they are legit. The risk just isn’t worth it.
And to add an extra layer of security, I recommend installing security software like Malwarebytes or ESET on all your devices.
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