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Travelers, be on guard connecting to the Internet away from home

Travelers, be on guard connecting to the Internet away from home

Like many, you likely use Internet access while traveling. In fact, many travelers choose their hotel because it offers free high-speed WiFi Internet access. One of the most popular hotel and cruise line loyalty program benefits is free high-speed WiFi Internet access.

Unfortunately, connecting to the Internet in planes, ships, hotels and other publicly accessible networks can be dangerous to your computer, tablet, smartphone, their data, and devices connected to them.

Connecting to the Internet in some countries, such as China or Russia, can be especially dangerous. Business travelers to those countries are often required by their companies to leave their cellphones and laptops at home and use disposable cellphones and laptop “loaners,” which have no data on them.

Kenneth Lieberthal, a former senior White House official for Asia, said about travel to China,

“I’ve been told that if you use an iPhone or BlackBerry, everything on it — contacts, calendar, e-mails — can be downloaded in a second. All it takes is someone sitting near you on a subway waiting for you to turn it on, and they’ve got it.”

You may not be traveling to China or Russia. You may not have critical corporate or governmental data on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, but you may have Social Security numbers, bank account information, passwords, credit and debit card numbers, and other important identity information on them. Typical business travelers may have on their laptop customer lists, sales numbers and other information competitors would find valuable.

To protect your devices, personal information and data before you connect your computer, smartphone or tablet to the Internet, make sure you take as many of the precautionary measures listed below as possible:

Leave it at home, if possible.
Unless you really need the device or computer, leave it at home.

Remove personal and critical data.
You can’t lose what’s not on your devices or computer. If you won’t need it, delete it before you travel.

Install Updates.
Update your computer, smartphone and tablet with the latest operating system updates. Update your programs and apps, too. Too many users forget or don’t understand how important this is and how vulnerable their devices are if they don’t regularly update them.

Defensive setup.
Set up and use your computer’s firewall. Use a top antivirus and anti-malware product and make sure they’re running at all times. When you get home, before connecting any device to your computer, or to your home or office network, make sure they are fully scanned for viruses and malware.

Don’t use it in crowds or crowded places.
Especially in countries like China and Russia, keep your smartphone, tablet or laptop turned off in crowds or crowded places like restaurants, trains, subways and hotel lobbies to avoid them being cloned.

Network connection.
Avoid open public networks whenever possible. Use hotel networks which require a password or reference number. Watch out for look-alike networks, known as “evil twins,” which spoof hotel wireless networks. If you’re not sure of the network to which you’re logging in, ask for help from the front desk. Be careful of look-alikes on cruise ship and even airplane WiFi networks.

Password protection.
Avoid typing passwords into your computer, if at all possible. When you do type in passwords in public, such as at a gate waiting for your plane or in a restaurant, avoid letting anyone see you type them in. Keep a memory stick with a password file to copy and paste your passwords instead of typing them, in case a “keystroke-logger” is on your computer. Never let the memory stick out of your physical possession. Only use strong passwords and change them regularly.

For smartphones and tablets, use an encrypted password manager so you don’t have to type in passwords.

Don’t connect to file sharing sites.
File sharing sites can leave your computer or other devices vulnerable to viruses and malware.

Block Pop-Ups.
Never click on a pop-up window. No major, reputable site requires them. Configure your browsers to block them.

Avoid all online financial transactions, if possible.
If you never connect to your bank or purchase anything online while traveling, you make it much harder for your information to be stolen. If financial transactions are unavoidable, make sure you’re connected through a secure (https) connection.

Disconnect when you’re not using the Internet.
Minimize your risk by minimizing the time you’re connected to the Internet.

Use a VPN connection when on the Internet.
A VPN (virtual private network) gives you a private network across the public network you’re connected to, enabling you to send and receive data as if your computer was directly connected to the distant computer. It protects your data from prying eyes through various protocols and encryption. I connect my laptop to our office network exclusively through a VPN connection whenever we’re traveling. When not connected to the office, I use a VPN service for my other online work.

These precautions will minimize your chance of putting your data and personal information at risk while traveling. Use as many as you can to mitigate your online vulnerability.

Getting there By Ned Levi

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