7 WiFi Security Tips for Traveling Abroad

Two young women with tablet on street

In general, practicing safe WiFi habits while connected to any public network is smart for internet users. However, foreign tourists face a variety of additional challenges that leave them even more vulnerable to WiFi attacks. Being unfamiliar with your surroundings and perhaps even unfamiliar with the local language puts you at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to cybersecurity. Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can protect yourself from WiFi attacks, even when you’re traveling to a new country.

If you’re planning an international trip, chances are you’ll want to connect to a WiFi network at some point to keep in touch with others back home or check up on your projects at work. Here are eight WiFi security tips to help you logon to and use public WiFi networks as safely as possible during your time abroad.

  1. Use a VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, secures your browsing activity by encrypting the traffic between your device and the server. You can set up a VPN for mobile devices as well as for laptops and tablets. It would be wise to have a VPN set up and ready to go on each of the devices you plan to take with you before you leave for your trip.

You can setup a VPN for iOS and Android devices fairly easily. For laptops, I recommend checking out PC Mag’s guide to the top VPN options from 2016.

  1. Turn off sharing settings

Your sharing settings could be on automatically for a number of reasons. Whether you tend to share files at work or photos with friends, it’s likely that some of your sharing settings are running on your device automatically. Before you connect to a public WiFi connection, be sure that you turn these sharing settings off to further secure your devices against attacks.

According to Dann Berg from Laptop Mag, “neglecting to disable these settings prior to connecting to a public network allows anyone else in the vicinity to hack into your device.”

  1. Avoid unencrypted networks

Unencrypted, or unprotected, WiFi networks include any network that does not require a password to connect. These networks can be dangerous for a variety of reasons. One of which being that unprotected networks are significantly easier for hackers to login to from afar to attack those who are using the network at a given location.

Lexi Savvides, a cybersecurity writer from CNET, explains that it is also “pretty easy for someone trying to intercept your data to set up a generic network like “FREE WiFi” to make you think that the network is a legitimate source.” Once you’ve logged on to one of these fake networks, hackers will have access to your device as well as the ability to view your browsing activity.

To avoid running into either of these issues while abroad, it might be best to avoid logging on to a WiFi network until you get back to your vacation rental.

  1. Forget WiFi networks and disable connection while not in use

Most devices will ask you if you’d like to automatically log on to the same network next time you’re within range. Although this can be convenient at your home or even at a library in your city, it’s generally wise to ask your device to “forget” WiFi connections at places outside of your own network. This holds especially true when you’re connecting to networks abroad.

When you’re done using your WiFi, be sure to disconnect your device from the network. Leaving your device connected while you’re not using the connection just leaves more time for potential hackers to gain access.

  1. Enable “two-factor” authentication

Some of the most famous personal attacks on online privacy could’ve been prevented by two-factor authentication. By setting each of your apps and personal accounts to require two forms of identification prior to successfully logging in from a new device, you can eliminate a hacker’s ability to access them in the event of a WiFi attack.

For example, you could require both a password and a code sent to your phone via text to login to your Gmail account each time someone tries to access it from a new device.

Logan Bryant, cyber security expert at Dish2U, says two-factor authentication is “arguably one of the most effective forms of protection you can use against WiFi attackers.” He adds that “even if your passwords are stolen during a WiFi attack, two-factor authentication can keep thieves out of your important accounts like your banking accounts, Dropbox, and email accounts.”

  1. Update antivirus software before your trip

Each time you receive a notification to update your antivirus software, you should follow the prompt as soon as possible to ensure that your computer is sufficiently protected. The longer your computer goes without necessary updates, the more vulnerable it becomes to potential attacks.

Check to make sure your computer’s antivirus software is up-to-date prior to your trip if you plan to bring it along. You should also be sure that your computer’s firewall is set up and running up to speed as well. According to Mark D. Rasch from Secure IT Experts, “your computer’s firewall and a strong antivirus software stand as your first line of defense when it comes to online attacks.”

  1. Ignore update/installation notifications while connected to a public network

Although installing antivirus updates to your computer while you’re at home and connected to a trusted WiFi source is important, you will want to avoid installing updates while connected to a public WiFi network. This is because many hackers try to trick unsuspecting users with download and update prompts that are actually viruses.

Make sure that all of your apps and programs are updated prior to leaving for your trip and avoid updating any programs or downloading any software while you’re connected to a public WiFi network.

Now that you’ve got the tips to keep your electronic devices safe while abroad, it’s time to start prepping for a safe and fun trip to a new culture! If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. Please let me know in the comments below.

Cosette Jarrett is a contributing writer for several lifestyle and tech blogs. Her current work includes roles as the go-to tech girl at HighSpeedInternet.com and regular contributor to the Lifehack and Business 2 Community blogs. She enjoys creating pieces to help both businesses and consumers find increased simplicity and efficiency at work and on the go.