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Study: 25% of Travelers Using Public Wifi Abroad Are Hacked. Here's How to Stay Safe.

Travel Safety Technology + Gear
by Nickolaus Hines Jun 27, 2022

One in four people have been hacked while using public WiFi abroad, according to new research from cybersecurity company NordVPN.

“It is typical to scroll through your phone while waiting for a flight or train. However, when on vacation, people tend to forget about their online security,” said NordVPN cybersecurity expert Daniel Markuson in a statement to TravelPulse. “Hackers take advantage of that and use the public WiFi network weaknesses in airports and train stations to get their hands onto sensitive personal or corporate data.”

One of the biggest problems comes with fake WiFi hotspots that have convincing names. If you’re working in a coffeeshop, for example, the business may have free WiFi. Yet on the list of available networks, a slew of similar sounding WiFi names that use a variation on the coffeeshop’s actual WiFi may be available. Linking into one of those can connect you with a hacker who could then steal any personal information that you input while online.

The best way to avoid these types of attacks is to double check that you’re using the correct connection and turn off the auto-connect setting on your device. If you’re unsure, avoid connecting altogether. It may cost money to use a personal hotspot or data, but it’s a lot cheaper than having to recover all of your information after your credit card information is stolen.

And then there’s the problem of unencrypted, but legitimate, open networks. Hackers can intercept information being sent on these open networks. In these cases, a VPN, or virtual private network, is your best form of protection. These do the work for you by encrypting your data and blocking third party interception (and in some cases, can even help you find cheaper airfare).

According to NordVPN, 85 percent of travelers from the United States fear they’ll be hacked on vacation, and 63 percent didn’t know if they used secure networks (though it should be noted that the company sells VPN networks, which it suggests as the primary solution, and doesn’t note its methodology or polling base).

Transit and public gathering points are the places most called out as prime hacker entry points. Unsecured hotel networks can be an issue in the latter case since anyone near a hotel can access the network and monitor the traffic to connected devices.

These suggestions apply just as much to traveling in the US as they do abroad. For frequent travelers who need to stay connected for work, the best way for piece of mind is to purchase a mobile hotspot, use a VPN, and be generally aware of the networks you’re connecting to and what information you’re putting into websites when connected to unsecure networks.

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