In a modern digital age gap year travellers are very rarely offline and often have at least one connected device on them at all times. The problem is those devices often have a wealth of personal information about us, our family, our finances, our entire lives, and many travellers do not think about the security or protection of those devices and can leave themselves open to online threats. Here is a quick and easy guide for backpackers to keep their online activities secure on their gap year.
Staying safe online is not something that you should take for granted, but it isn’t something that you should get totally paranoid about either. I don’t want to overly worry anyone out there who is about to set off on their round the world adventure, hackers aren’t sitting around in every public wifi spot looking to steal your information, and it is highly unlikely you will find yourself stripped of your identity, bank account and all your personal information as someone else swans off around the world, doing all manner of dastardly deeds pretending to be you.
It just isn’t very likely.
Don’t be paranoid, but be sensible about your online security.
Saying that, putting a few basic safety precautions in place, protecting your equipment and backing up your files is just good old fashioned common sense. Just think of how much you are online now when you are travelling, sharing all those awesome shots across all your social media, checking out where the nearest sushi bar is and reading the latest reviews, looking for a decent hostel to spend the night or even checking into your flight. Being online is almost a necessity for the modern traveller, so it’s a good idea to make sure you are safe doing it.
So what threats are out there?
There are a number of threats that are a danger to your online security. Some are just malicious such as viruses or malware that can shut your device down or wreck it entirely, other threats such as spyware or phishing want to mine your personal information for nefarious means.
How to protect yourself from these threats.
Fortunately there are some simple steps that you can take to protect yourself as much as possible when you are online so that you can enjoy your travels with some peace of mind. The good news is that many of you will be doing a lot of this stuff already to some extent at least, so it will almost be second nature. It won’t do any harm to give yourself a refresher course though and just double check your devices and your online behaviour are up to scratch.
Install decent security software.
Some of the biggest threats to your online security are through malware or spyware, so you need to make sure each of your devices have a really good security package installed. There are numerous ones available and I urge you to do your research on each one before you choose, but whichever one it is you install it should have good antivirus and anti spyware software, as well as a good firewall.
Make sure the software is the latest version.
So many people get decent security software for their devices and then forget about them, assuming their devices are secure. That isn’t necessarily true. New viruses pop up all the time and spyware and malware update and evolve frequently, so it is essential that you update all your security before your big trip.
If you are using a wireless network then encrypt it! Don’t just leave it open! This isn’t just to stop freeloaders nicking your bandwidth, it also stops anyone from mining your personal information from it.
Get a good password!
No, using your name with the number 1 after it is not a good password, and your pets name isn’t good either. Neither is God, if you are old enough to remember the chant ‘Hack The Planet!’ Whatever it is you use it is essential that you choose one that is entirely unique just to you. Best practice for passwords are often using a random combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. It is also a good idea to use a combination of four or five completely random words that are absolutely meaningless when put together, but you can remember easily, kind of like typing tourettes.
And for the love of all that is decent and holy, actually make sure that you need a password or some sort of security to get onto your device! It is shocking how often people don’t do this. All it takes is for a bit of inattention for someone to steal your phone, then they have access to all your details, your contacts and those photos you wouldn’t want your nan to see! Use a password!
Think of your device like a goldfish with dementia.
With typing in numerous passwords being the absolute pain in the proverbial that it is, it can be really tempting to just stay logged in to all your sites or at the very least let your device ‘remember’ all your passwords. Don’t stay logged in and don’t let it. If your device does get stolen and someone does manage to get pass your password (I’m looking at you Password1 guy), then all they have to do is press the icon for your online banking and hey presto they have full access to all your life’s savings. Disaster. Having to remember passwords and log in every time is a pain, but it is preferable to letting thieves have access to everything.
Be careful which wifi hotspot you use.
With wifi hotspots being spotty at best sometimes, it can be tempting to access the first one that says open and gives you a good signal. Don’t. Look carefully at which wifi hotspot it is and make sure that it is an official and trusted one. Many hackers use generic open hotspots with similar names to the hotel or public hotspot they are near, and if you use them you are a much easier target.
Use a VPN.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network is a great way of getting online whilst travelling and safeguarding all your private data at the same time.
Be careful what sites you access on wifi.
It’s always a good idea to refrain from accessing banking or other highly sensitive sites when on wifi, in fact many online security experts advise against it completely saying it is better to use a physical ethernet or other hard wired connection in your hotel room. But if you do need to access banking sites when travelling then it is always best to stick to your own device (as opposed to an internet cafe or hotel business lounge).
Be careful what information you give out.
Sometimes when you are travelling there will be times when you want to buy something online, say a last minute flight or tickets to a show, whatever. Before you enter your credit card details just take a moment to double check that the site you are using is the correct official site, and that the site is secure. You can do this by checking for the little padlock icon, and that the pages url begins with https and not http (the S stands for secure).
Turn off roaming wifi.
If you are not actively using a hotspot it is a good idea to turn off your wifi. This not only makes sure your device is invisible to online predators, but saves on your battery too!
Delete any app you don’t use.
It is tempting to download a whole host of apps before and during your round the world adventures, many of which require at least some personal data or you are smart with these and you are using the app, it is generally no big deal, but if you have no need of the app any more there is no use having one more thing that has your personal data stored in it just using up space.
Keep your friends close, but block everyone else!
As you travel around the world you meet so many awesome people that one of the best ways for you all to keep in touch is via facebook. It’s normal to add tons of people all over the world as friends on your gap year, and it isn’t abnormal to check your profile after a few days and have a fair few friend requests. Before you click that button to allow them access to your proifile however, it is worth just double checking who exactly is requesting to be added and if you genuinely know them. Think of all the personal information you have on your social media sites. It is so easy to just click that allow button without thinking, and you never know who has slipped through the net. Just be vigilant.
Check what information you have on social media.
Which brings me onto another point, with social media being such a huge part of our lives now it can be so easy to be careless with the information you share. Your name and date of birth on one site, your address on another, your favourite colour or the names of your mum, dad, pets or second cousin twice removed in those posts you happily shared with everyone. For someone looking to steal your identity, it can often be like shooting fish in a barrel.
Again, don’t be paranoid.
There is absolutely no reason to be paranoid, I promise you. A quick check and a quick spring clean can often be all it takes to keep yourself safe online, and that is as true at home as it is when you are travelling.
I know many of you will be doing a lot of these things already, the tips here are not exactly highly classified security secrets courtesy of MI6, but it doesn’t do any harm to just have a quick review of your online behaviour and check your security is as up to date as it can be. That way you can enjoy your online activities around the world with relative peace of mind, and just get on with having a great time on your travels.
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