Connect with us

Security

How to protect your phone while traveling

When you’re abroad, you might be more at risk to an attack and it’s because of the devices we carry in our pockets to make our trips easier.

astrohaus traveler distraction free portable typewriter
Image: Astrohaus

The threat of cyber attacks and data theft is real. And experts say your phone habits could be putting you at greater risk.

It’s easy to slip into a false sense of security while you’re on holiday. You’re relaxed, finally in “off mode”, and can cultivate a well-earned sense of not giving a damn.

Plus, the chance that you will become a victim of a hacking attack always seems so unlikely. Unfortunately, the data is in, and attacks and theft caused by a combination of careless behavior and unsafe systems are common and on the rise.

The thing is, we all kind of know that. News about hacking, phishing, and ransomware have dominated global headlines over the last couple of years.

Technology is embedded in every aspect of our lives. On top of that, the pace of change means tech companies and cybersecurity firms have a tough time keeping up with security flaws. As soon as one weakness is discovered, and exploited, it’s a race to fix it. By the time that flaw has been dealt with, another weakness appears.

CyberSecurity while traveling 101

When you’re abroad, you might be more at risk to an attack and it’s because of the devices we carry in our pockets to make our trips easier.

A 2018 report by Google found that 87% of users in India, 48% in the USA, and 45% in Australia were comfortable researching, planning, and booking an entire trip using only mobile devices.

The statistics are not surprising. With the explosion of travel apps, we all use mobile devices as our default travel agent, banker, and trip planner. But it means we all routinely funnel our financial information through third-party applications and unsecured public wi-fi networks.

As a user, there’s not too much you can do to stop hackers from being hackers and doing dodgy things online. But there are key ways you can change your behavior to make yourself less vulnerable to an attack. In 2019 basic cyber hygiene can mean the difference between a relaxing trip away and a cyber horror story.

Public wi-fi networks

High roaming charges mean that travelers rely on public wifi networks. When booking accommodation, the strength of the public wi-fi network is a significant deciding factor for most travelers, according to industry consumer platform Revinate.

Unfortunately, while public wi-fi networks are convenient, they are also inherently unsafe. In 2017, Global News Canada reported that 88% of Canadian travelers put their data at risk on public wi-fi networks.

An experiment by Der Correspondent journalist Maurits Martijn back in 2014 showed how easy it is to intercept an average wi-fi network. In 20 minutes, the ethical hacker he brought along for the test was able to trick users into joining his fake network. He could also view their identifying information, browsing histories, and account passwords. Yikes. The post is old, but the takeaway stands: public wifi networks are vulnerable.

How do I protect myself?

  • Use a VPN
  • Turn off wi-fi when you’re done

The best way to protect yourself on public wi-fi is with a high-quality VPN. A VPN establishes a secure connection between your phone and a private server. When this happens your traffic is diverted and encrypted. You should use your VPN whenever you’re online, but make sure you’re connected when you’re using your hotel’s wi-fi or the network at the local coffee shop.

A VPN is one of the most important things you can do to beef up your mobile device security, but it has a bonus use for travelers. When your traffic is diverted through the VPN server it changes your IP address. That means you’ll be able to bypass geoblocks and watch your favorite TV shows on Netflix, Hotstar, or HBO while you’re abroad.

The search for a VPN can be confusing, but you should look for a few key features. Look for VPNs that offer a kill switch, which will pause your internet if the VPN connection drops. Better VPNs use advanced encryption technology and include features like malware and ad blockers. The best VPN for mobile devices will offer cross-platform applications so you can just download and install.

There are a few premium VPNs on the market, but according to this expert review by vpnMentor, CyberGhost offers the best VPN for mobile, including Android and iOS devices.

You should also get into the habit of turning off your wi-fi when you’re done using the internet. Leaving your wi-fi on allows hackers to easily intercept your connection and use it as a conduit to access your device.

Banking apps and P2P financial apps

Banking apps are an indispensable feature of modern life. We all use them to manage our finances, make transfers, and pay for things online. However, they come with inherent risks.

According to a Reuters investigation, mobile banking apps increase the risk of fraud because banking institutions rarely develop the applications in-house.

Complicating matters is P2P payment services like digital wallets or PayPal. Services like PayPal, while convenient, give criminals more access points to intercept your connection and take control of your data.

How do I protect myself?

  • Enable strong verification
  • Enable biometric passwords
  • Use a VPN to encrypt your traffic

Most of the responsibility for making banking apps and other financial services safer is in the hands of the services themselves.

However, there are measures you can take to protect yourself. You should enable all the security features offered by your banking apps, even if it takes a little longer to log in. Features like 2-step verification and biometric passwords are really good tools for ensuring your sensitive information is safe.

You should also use your device’s security features to their full potential. Most newer phones offer biometric protection – use it. You may also be able to turn on an additional step that asks you for your fingerprint again before you send any money or open financial apps.

While banking apps use advanced encryption, adding an additional layer will make your data unreadable to anyone who might be watching. You can encrypt your phone, or use a VPN to encrypt your traffic.

Malware

Malware is a catch-all term that includes adware (those ads you can’t close and should never open), trojans, ransomware, and viruses. Mobile devices are particularly at risk of device-specific malware. This kind of malware uses information about your device’s model and make to launch highly targeted attacks.

The effects of malware can be a significant financial loss. It could even mean your device turned into a ‘zombie’ and used to launch further attacks on other users.

Malware comes in lots of forms but often hides in shady third-party apps. Androids are more frequently victimized, with an Oxford University investigation finding that 87% of all Android users are exposed to at least one critical vulnerability. However, iOS users should also be cautious. In 2015, 40 apps were pulled from the Apple store after they were infected with a code designed to turn apple devices into a botnet.

How do I protect myself?

  • Use an ad and malware blocker
  • Use anti-virus software
  • Be cautious of third-party apps

While apps are a fact of life for travelers you do need to exercise caution. It’s good sense to think twice before downloading a third-party application. Apps with weak review histories especially should be looked upon with suspicion.

The best way to protect yourself from vulnerabilities is to use anti-virus software like AVG or a standalone ad and malware blocker. High-quality VPNs also integrate built-in ad and malware blockers.

One more simple thing you can do is to always make sure your device is updated. Security vulnerabilities are often addressed in each system update.

Protect Your Phone While You’re Traveling: Easy Tips

  • Use biometric security like fingerprint access
  • Use a password manager
  • Use a high-quality VPN
  • Keep your device updated
  • Check your bank accounts frequently for unusual activity
  • Turn off wi-fi when you’re not using it
  • Use a malware blocker, or use anti-virus and a VPN that has a built-in malware blocker

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

Editors’ Recommendations:

Just another guy who likes to write about tech and gadgets.

Comments
Advertisement

More in Security