Traveling is a great way to experience other cultures, expand your horizons, and make everlasting memories with your loved ones. But for many other reasons, aside from the stress of your flights getting cancelled far away from home and risking the stay at an unknown hotel, traveling can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared for the challenge. If you’re not opting for an off-the-grid experience, you’ll probably need the internet regardless of your location, but unfortunately criminals and threat actors rely on that need to single out unsuspecting people. Any public Wi-Fi network, regardless of how convenient it is, is a more significant risk to your safety than you might realize.
But maybe you need public Wi-Fi to check your email while you vacation, or maybe you’re only a few miles from your house at a coffee shop, working on your laptop for some change in scenery. You love your office, you’re just… getting a little stir-crazy. Either way, you need the Wi-Fi network to get what you need accomplished, whatever it may be, but by doing so unprotected, you endanger the safety of your and your employer’s data. Still, no one should fear exploring the world while staying connected because of potential predators. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to never look at your phone or laptop unless you are home.
So, what tool can travelers use to stay online and untouched?
What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
A VPN is an online privacy tool, a “secure tunnel” that protects your identity while you’re connected to any network. It masks your online activity behind data encryption and multiple IP addresses, so nobody can monitor your inputs for valuable information or pinpoint your location. VPNs behave similarly to proxies, but whereas a proxy only hides your IP address, a VPN additionally encrypts any data and activity logs collected while you surf. VPNs are a sturdy defense against hackers waiting for potential victims to connect to public Wi-Fi, where they’re free to monitor and steal whatever valuable information they want.
Beyond protecting you from malware and data theft, a VPN is also a must-have for those unhappy with data collection. Your ISP (internet service provider), as per the Homeland Security Bill, can and will sell off your personal data and surfing history to companies, which they use to gear their advertisements to target you, specifically. A common example you may have noticed already is your Facebook feed: why do you think the “right” advertisements always pop up for something you were just discussing with someone over text? Your provider is listening to what you “want” and selling that information to the right company.
Important features in a VPN
There are many different offerings and pricing points for VPNs, but it’s important to know what features you need to find the right one for you.
No-logging policy: By logging your data onto a hard drive, collectors make it available to be recovered and analyzed by anyone willing to pay for it. Any information that is saved but not encrypted is a liability. You should trust your VPN provider, first and foremost, and the best way to cement that trust is a strict no-logging practice.
Excellence in encryption: In the same thread as no-logging, your VPN provider should be absolutely thorough with their encryption. A human should not be able to translate any data about you or your whereabouts through a machine in a timely manner. The more time a hacker spends on your data, the less value it has to them.
Access points: With the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, it’s no wonder VPN providers now offer plans with access points for multiple devices to connect to. Hackers and criminals can still threaten you regardless of if you’re on a phone or laptop, so a VPN’s protection should extend to any device you spend a lot of time on.
Ease of use: If it’s difficult to use, you’re not going to use it. Your VPN should be user-friendly and easy to understand—if not, you leave yourself and your data exposed.
Reputation: Word-of-mouth is powerful for a reason, no matter the product or service. Make sure other customers are happy with a potential VPN provider’s performance and compare that reputation to other options. There are many comprehensive lists of VPN options available online for review.
Throttling: Make sure the provider you use doesn’t cap your internet speed. Many “free” VPN providers have this feature hidden in their service agreements. Remember: you always get what you pay for.
Personal VPN recommendations
Express VPN: By far the most secure of the options listed. Express uses top-of-the-line encryption technology, but that’s accounted for in its price.
NordVPN: With a sterling reputation in service quality, protection, and overall speed, we couldn’t recommend NordVPN enough. It has a lower price point than Express.
Proton VPN: ProtonVPN is another popular choice in the market, known for its speed. ProtonVPN is currently partnered with multiple stream platforms, ensuring an uninterrupted and protected online experience. Its customer service has low reviews, however.
Other tips for staying safe online while traveling
Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all devices: MFA is an extra layer of protection for signing onto a device or account. Although it takes more time, the purpose of the extra prompt, usually a PIN sent to your email or phone, is to ensure whoever is attempting access is who they claim to be.
Keep devices updated: Updating devices will fix security flaws and help keep you protected from the newest cyberthreats. No matter what kind of device it is, laptop, tablet, phone, etc., every piece of software and application must be maintained and updated. Turning on “automatic updates,” if available, is highly recommended.
Back up device storage: There are all kinds of cloud and online storage options available for you to back up important information in the event it all gets lost or corrupted. Back up information such as photos, contacts, bank account info, etc.
Lock unattended devices: If you’re not using a device you’re signed into, lock it. You never know who’s looking at your screen and waiting for you to get distracted.
Looking for more ways to stay safe on the internet? Check out our blog here.
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