Your internet presence is an extension of yourself. If you’ve got a smartphone, you might be banking, working, communicating and sharing exclusively on the web and on the go. Just as you need to keep yourself safe abroad, you need to keep your internet presence safe, too. When you’re traveling, moving around so often from unfamiliar place to unfamiliar place can be more difficult than it is in the U.S.  Many travelers try to avoid expensive overseas roaming charges only to get their identities stolen at a free wifi hotspot.

Follow these tips and tricks to keep your identity, passwords and personal data safe online.  These ideas will work as well at home as abroad.

Switch off your wireless connection when you’re not using it. If you can, use your internet sparingly. Hackers have fewer windows of opportunity if you connect to networks infrequently.

Get armor for your device: If you’re going to be traveling, get an antivirus app for your mobile devices. There’s a wide variety of recommended apps available for Apple and Android, some of them for free. Take a look at some product reviews before you make your final choice.  

Make your passwords long and strong: If you’re like many internet users, you’ve been using your dog’s name as a password for years. It’s not the best digital security tactic. Crafting a password actually takes a bit more work than using your favorite “Game of Thrones” character’s name. Follow these steps to give your password a better defense against hackers:

  • Make passwords a minimum of 12 characters.
  • Make sure you have at least one number, at least one symbol and a good mix of upper- and lower-case letters.
  • Do not use a real word out of the dictionary, or a combination of real words. Don’t use proper nouns, either.
  • Don’t garble up real words with “looks like” symbols, either. You can’t make your password much stronger by changing “poet” to “p03t.” Your password should look like utter nonsense to anyone seeing it.
  • Make a strong password by creating a sentence or story in your head encoding it by using the first letter of each word and changing numbers to numerals. For example: “I have two brothers at home named John and Danny, and one dog named Buster” translates to “Ih2b@hnJ&D&1dnB.”

Don’t wait – update: Updating your phone or tablet’s operating system can sometimes be a pain. On many days, you receive notifications to restart your device. It’s tempting to hit “later” ad infinitum. There’s reason for you not to ignore updates. Those operating system updates often come with security patches making your phone or computer less vulnerable to cyberattacks. Not updating it can leave a window open for would-be hackers. Run the most recent version of your operating system just to be safe.  You may be able to set your device to run automatic updates.

Use only secure networks: It’s difficult to identify secure networks from those vulnerable to hacking. There are a few things you can do to lower your chances of cyber attack.

  • When you’re staying at a hotel, ask the concierge for the hotel’s official network access information and then take precautions using the network.  Norton Security recommends these to start
    • Set up good defenses.
      • Your computer’s firewall and a strong antivirus software provide your first line of defense, says Mark D. Rasch, co-founder of Secure IT Experts. Your firewall permits or denies traffic to and from your computer, so it’s important to make sure it’s turned on.
      • If you’re using Windows, click on the START menu, then click on the control panel. Click on security center (look for the multi-colored shield). A green indicator means your firewall is on. If you use a Mac, open System Preferences and click Sharing, then click Firewall. You’ll also need to make sure your security software is updated and run daily scans while you’re traveling.
    • Be careful to connect to the correct network.
      • Often, free hotel Wi-Fi requires a password or reference number that is provided by the hotel upon check-in. Make sure you’re indeed connecting to the hotel’s Wi-Fi and not an Evil Twin, which is a look-alike connection designed to trick you, then gather your information for possible identity theft or other mischief. Look-alike sites might use a name similar to the hotel’s name, so ask at the front desk before you logon if you’re confused.
    • Avoid file-sharing.
      • Steer clear of file-sharing sites such as Lime Wire and Morpheus, which offer free downloads of software, advises David Callisch, vice president of marketing for Ruckus Wireless, a company that installs wireless networks in hotels. “Avoid doing things where two computers can talk to each other,” he says. File-sharing sites can leave your computer vulnerable to malicious attacks, such as viruses or spyware.
    • Disconnect when not in use.
      • Minimize your risks by disconnecting from the network when you’re not actively using the Wi-Fi.
    • Avoid financial transactions.
      • If you can avoid making online purchases and accessing your bank account from the free Wi-Fi connection, it’s a good idea, says Rasch. If you must conduct financial business online, make sure the site is protected through “https,” a protocol that provides a secure connection. A secure website will have the “https” rather than “http” in the Web address and a lock symbol in the bottom right corner.
    • Use a VPN.
      • If you’re traveling for work, ask if your company uses a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is a computer network that provides employees with remote access to company servers. These networks use data-scrambling technologies which ensure secure access to company data through an Internet connection. In a VPN, your online activity will be encrypted so that the bad guys can’t see what you’re doing. If you’re traveling for personal reasons, you can also purchase a VPN service. Companies such as HotSpotVPN even allow you to purchase their service in small increments of time, such as a few days.
    • Change passwords frequently.
      • Malicious types are often “sniffing” or looking for password information over unsecured networks, says Callisch. You might not think it’s a big deal if someone grabs your user ID and password for Facebook. After all, the worst they might do is change your status or delete a few friends, right? Don’t be so sure, Callisch cautions.

Many of us retain the same passwords and user IDs for many online activities. Too often, we use the same password for Facebook as we do for our online banking. “Take a reasonable amount of precaution and change your password all the time,” Callisch says.

  • If you’re using a hotel’s computer or another shared device, make sure you choose secure browsing. Look for “https” in the url and the little padlock icon by site names to make sure you’re browsing safely.  Also check your browser’s help function to look for additional ways to keep your browsing secure.
  • Avoid typing in your personal information anywhere if possible. You’re going to be tempted to check your bank accounts when you’re trying to stay on a budget abroad. Whenever you can, resist the urge. Every time you enter a password, online thieves have a chance to steal it. Try to keep track of your expenses offline in order to make staying away from your bank app easier.
  • Consider getting a mobile virtual private network (mobile VPN) for your devices. A mobile VPN is a sort of virtual tunnel, cloaking your internet activity from would-be onlookers. Many businesses use it for their company internet servers. You can use it to protect your personal devices. Be aware that It’s not foolproof and it may slow down internet performance.

Set up shop: If you’re staying in a place with no secure wifi connection, consider investing in a travel router, or MIFI – a personal WIFI you carry with you. These devices can help you set up your own network, so you don’t have to rely on any questionable connections. You can use this in conjunction with a VPN to browse both securely and invisibly to unwanted eyes.

Let’s review: Follow these simple steps to make your online interactions safer.

  1. When you’re not using the internet, switch off your wireless connection.
  2. Fortify your devices with antiviral apps.
  3. Beef up your passwords.
  4. Update your device’s operating system.
  5. Make sure you’re using secure networks through an official source.
  6. Consider bringing a travel router with you.

For additional information, read this article by Computer, Top five data security travel issues: Protect sensitive information on business trips.