Here's Why You Should Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi While Traveling Abroad

One in four international travelers have been hacked while using public Wi-Fi

Businesswoman using smart phone and laptop at airport lobby
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If you rely on public Wi-Fi while traveling abroad, you may want to find alternative ways to connect online. New research from cybersecurity company NordVPN shows that one in four international travelers have been hacked using public Wi-Fi, typically while connecting in transportation hubs like airports and bus 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," Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN, said in a press release shared with TripSavvy. "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."

Tourists traveling through an unfamiliar country are susceptible to hacking due to so-called "evil twins," fake Wi-Fi hotspots that look similar to the Wi-Fi name of a reputable establishment—say, a coffee shop or airport. If you connect your device to one of these networks, the hacker may have access to personal information stored on your devices, such as credit card details and e-mails. In its research, NordVPN also found that 63 percent of survey responders are unsure whether or not they're using secure websites when abroad.

Even if you connect to a legitimate Wi-Fi network, you're still at risk of getting hacked, according to NordVPN. Through a "man-in-the-middle attack," a hacker can intercept traffic by placing their computer or phone between the remote server and your device.

Since it's virtually impossible to travel without the Internet these days, there are fortunately several measures that you can take to ensure that your data is protected from the wrong hands.

"The only way to protect the device from man-in-the-middle attack is using VPN. Our research shows that more than 78 [percent] of people don't use VPN while connected to public Wi-Fi on their trip, which increases their vulnerability to hackers' attacks," Markuson said.

Alternatively, if you have a 4G-enabled device, you can use encrypted mobile data, which allows for safer Internet surfing. Disable your phone from connecting automatically to Wi-Fi networks and opt for a cell phone provider that charges no international data roaming fees, like T-Mobile or Google Fi. Otherwise, you can purchase a local SIM card at the airport and swap that in as soon as you arrive.

All these suggestions aside, if you expect to use public Wi-Fi at any point in your trip, NordVPN suggests using a prepaid card so you don't lose your savings if your card details get stolen, and avoid booking hotels and plane tickets while using public Wi-Fi. And if you use the Internet as a navigation tool? Consider using offline mapping tools or download the map of the city you're visiting via Google Maps.

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  1. NordVPN. "85% of Holidaymakers Are Worried They'll Get Hacked." June 6, 2022.