One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how can people protect themselves while they are traveling. These same tactics can help when you are using a public network connection such as a coffee shop or airport. Just because you paid for the WiFi at the resort you are staying in, doesn’t mean its safe or secure.
1). Use your office VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates a secure network connection between your computer and another network. If your business has a VPN system in place, depending on how its configured, you can use your office network as a connection to the outside world. Your office firewall will typically have better protections and no one in the coffee shop will be able to snoop in on those connections.
2). Use a Public VPN. Like a VPN connection to your office, there are public VPN providers such as Private Internet Access (affiliate link) or ProXPN . These services will allow you to create a secure connection to their data center locations. Like the Office VPN, this will prevent local snoops at the public WiFi connection from looking in on what you’re doing. The problem with many public VPN systems is that they can be blocked by some governments like China.
UPDATE: We are modifying our recommendation as it comes to our attention that many of the nodes that you exit from using Private Internet Access are nefarious in nature and may snoop on your traffic. Many of its IP addresses have shown up on known blacklists. We do not recommend you connect to any sensitive systems while connecting to a public VPN.
3). Use a mobile hotspot from your favorite carrier. Whether your mobile colors are red, yellow, pink or blue, they all have the ability to tether your smartphone to your computer (depending on contract) or getting a low cost mobile hotspot as an add-on. You are less likely to get hijacked over a mobile connection than a WiFi connection. But if you’re still doing something that you don’t want the telcos or government to see (no judgement here) use one of the VPNs mentioned above.
4). Use a “clean” computer. If you need to access sensitive data/information and you’re going to a hostile country, take a clean computer that just has the software you need on it and no data. Then use a VPN or some other remote access system to a computer back home or in the office to access data. You can even copy data locally to the computer to work offline and then delete it when you are finished. Computers have a tendency to get hijacked or infected when visiting some countries and using their WiFi.
5). Encrypt your data. If you can’t use a clean computer or have to carry data with you, encrypt your computer data. Windows 8 and 10 and the later version of Mac OS X have built in encryption systems that will prevent someone who gets physical access to your computer to read the data on them. Additional management or file level encryption can also be used. Just make sure your computer is completely powered down and not put to “sleep” or “hibernate” when you moving through customs or checkpoints.
6). Use secure messaging from your mobile devices. Applications such as WhatsApp and soon Facebook messenger will provide end-to-end encryption thus preventing snoops from listening in on your conversations.
7). Update all systems. Before you travel, make sure your computer and mobile systems are completely up to date with the latest patches, including software that is running on it such as Adobe Flash, Java, etc. This is a common vector of attack so make sure that you’re up to date.
8). Review the passwords of the systems you plan to access. Make sure you don’t have any duplicates (use different passwords for each system) and change them before and after you travel in case they are leaked.
9).Leave your tech at home! Hopefully your trip is pleasure and you can leave your tech at home. But we know that’s not going to happen…so there you go.