With more and more travelers taking off on long-awaited getaways, cybercriminals have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of security gaps in the online connections they make away from home.
Recent research conducted by cybersecurity company NordVPN shockingly revealed that one in four travelers have been hacked while using public Wi-Fi on their travels abroad. The majority of those attacks occurred while people were in transit at airports, and bus or train stations.
“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,” remarked Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN. “Hackers take advantage of that and use the public Wi-Fi network weaknesses in airports and train stations to get their hands onto sensitive personal or corporate data.”
The Dangers of Public Wi-Fi
The company explained that travelers make prime targets for cybercriminals because they typically don’t even know what the legitimate Wi-Fi name for the place they’re visiting is.
Hackers can easily set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots in places frequented by tourists—airports, train stations, hotels, cafes, restaurants, etc.—often with convincing network names that seem like they’re appropriate for the venue (e.g., Starbucks_Guest_WiFi). Once a traveler connects to one of these “evil twin” hotspots, all their personal information—including payment card details, private emails, website login information and various other credentials—is sent straight to the hacker.
Even the legitimate public Wi-Fi networks for such places can be dangerous to connect to, since unsecured. That lack of encryption means hackers can connect to the open network anytime, see everything you do online, and steal passwords and personal information. This is called a “man-in-the-middle” attack since the cybercriminal intercepts information by tapping into the connection between a person’s device and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
“The only way to protect the device from man-in-the-middle attack is using VPN. Our research shows that more than 78% of people don’t use VPN while connected to public Wi-Fi on their trip, which increases their vulnerability to hackers’ attacks,” Markuson said.
How Travelers Can Protect Themselves
While using public Wi-Fi networks poses the risk of exposing people’s personal and sensitive data, it continues to be a necessity for many travelers. Experts at NordVPN shared some tips for keeping your devices protected during trips:
— Use a VPN service. VPN stands for “virtual private network”, and it’s the most effective tool travelers can use to ensure online security when working over an open Wi-Fi connection. The VPN service encrypts the user’s data, blocking third parties from intercepting their data over the network.
— Disable automatic connections. Changing this setting on your device will prevent you from inadvertently connecting to a public network you didn’t intend.
— Do not share your credentials. While many travelers like to make bookings and reservations on the go, for the sake of convenience, doing so makes your data more vulnerable. NordVPN advises against booking hotels, plane tickets, etc. while connected to public Wi-Fi, as attackers may capture your credit card information or online banking credentials.
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