Traveling can be wrought with stress. That doesn’t mean there are a few simple safeguards you can put in place to protect your privacy.
“Public wifi is basically a honey trap for digital thieves.”
Create a virtual private network on your mobile device with a VPN
Let’s start with virtual private networks.
Suppose you’re at your local Starbucks with twenty or so minutes to kill while Chad, unironic mustache and all, whips up your caramel frap, extra whip, drizzled with chocolate syrup and you quickly decide to make a dent at the three hundred unread emails loitering in your inbox. You search for the wifi, find it under GreenMermaid777, click to join, and are hit with the ambiguous, “Unsecured Network” message. You don’t hesitate. Dismiss. These emails can’t wait. The grind never stops, right?
Why you might want to use a VPN in this instance?
While joined up to an unsecured network, you’ve made yourself incredibly vulnerable to innumerable data tracking schemes and the maligned persons you may very well be sharing a connection with. Let me explain why. From now on, when you read “unsecured”, don’t wonder whether or not it might be safe, assume it isn’t. When you engage with an unsecured network, the data flowing between your machine and the web are unencrypted and up for grabs.
Well, if the wifi is unsecured, what does a VPN do to secure it?
When using a VPN, your data is not moving freely between your machine and the wifi, but instead is being re-routed through a tunnel of sorts, masking your IP address, and broadcasting the information through the VPN totally encrypted and fully secured. No more prying eyes. No more maligned parties.
Here’s a list of best mobile VPN’s for both Android and iPhone:
Use messengers that make use of E2EE (end-to-end encryption)
Thanks to one-way functions and double ratchet messaging encryption, communication in the modern age can be incredibly secure even for the technical laymen. Downloading a secure messaging app with all of your companions can take the guess-work out of, “should I be messaging about X while visiting Y? (think dissenting opinions about communism while in China.)” Here are a two you should consider:
For the casual user:
You can’t lose with Open Whisper’s Signal Messenger. Pros: It’s free, easy to use, and has a robust network of users — not to mention the most approved of and vetted cryptographic protocol available when it comes to messaging, today. Cons: Signal currently requires a personal identifier at sign-up. This means a phone number or email that is associated with the application’s user.
For the power-privacy user:
If you’re sold on Signal but have a fundamental problem sharing data involving personal identifiers, you’ll want to consider ODIN.CHAT. This E2EE messenger makes use of the Signal Protocol (the technology that makes Signal so secure in the first place) but requires no personal identifiers from the user, thanks to the ODIN Identity Solution. No phone number, email, name, nothing. Pros: free, easy to use, no personal identifiers. Cons: no current customization for usernames (you’ll have to use your ODIN Identity.) Read more on how ODIN’s Identity solution works.
Buy a dedicated travel phone and laptop
Some places are safer than others. If you’re scared of pick-pockets or can’t afford to lose costly hardware due to lost luggage or a freak accident, you might want to consider purchasing a spare phone or laptop. Thanks to the smartphone arms race, amazingly specced phones can be had for a few hundred U.S. dollars (especially if you’re willing to pick one up second hand). When it comes to a personal computer, your decision might be framed by your individual needs. If its Netflix, light browsing, and email you’re worried about, consider picking up a Chromebook.
About the author
Christopher Reeder is ODIN Blockchain’s Lead Content Strategist and Technical Writer. As an advocate and researcher, he is exploring technology’s impact on privacy.
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