28 January 2014

When you go travelling, your online world is not as secure as it is at home.

You might rely on open wifi networks, internet cafes and easily stolen gadgets to get online.

So you need to tighten up your online security - and your privacy too (a picture you don't want your nan to see can be worse than getting scammed!) Here are 16 things you can do to avoid becoming a victim.

  1. Get into the habit of logging out and clearing your history. If you do this now, it'll become a Pavlovian response, so you won't forget when you're in a Bangkok internet cafe and your new best mate suddenly appears and says the two of you are now going for a beer. When you clear your history, you should ensure your cache and active logins are also cleared. If you don't know what that means, just go to History > Clear history and make sure all the boxes are ticked.
  2. While you're developing new habits, stop saving passwords. Browsers or websites will often ask you if you want that password remembered or if you want to stay logged in. Get into the habit of saying 'no' and unticking the 'keep me logged in button'.
  3. Start setting unique, non-rubbish passwords for every site you use. We know you use the name of your cat / dog / ex-girlfriend for every other site and those are so easy to guess (especially by the aforementioned new best mate). To make them unique but memorable, pick a theme, (eg cartoon characters) then use the initial letter of the site you're using for each one. For example, for Facebook, you could use fREdFl1nT5t0n3, and for Twitter, t1nK3rB3Ll.
  4. Your email address should be the most secure thing you use. This is because if someone gets in, they can request password resets to be sent to it, then they can go crazy buying gold-plated toilets on Amazon and sticking you with the bill. Yeah, it's a pain when you're logging in remotely every time but it's worth it. The password doesn't have to be long, just difficult. A mix of upper and lower case letters and numbers is good, and things that aren't real words are even better. To help you remember it, you can use a sentence: for example, 15lJBihnfo could stand for 'I secretly love Justin Beiber, I hope no-one finds out'.
  5. Lock your phone. Use a password or pin to unlock it, rather than a pattern. And obviously, don't let your new best mate or other people hanging around watch you unlock it.
  6. Set your phone to lock very quickly. Yes, it's annoying, but not as annoying as having a thief run up a massive phone bill on your behalf.
  7. Lock and/or encrypt other stuff on your phone. Your phone manufacturer's site should have top tips on what you can do, or just go to the security settings in your phone and have a look there at what you can do.
  8. Don't use an open WiFi network to do anything more than browse (ie don't login to anything through it).
  9. Tighten up your Facebook privacy (ha ha). Go to Settings > Apps and remove any you don't want. Make sure you edit 'Apps others use' too to avoid sharing too much information. Then go to 'Security' (also in 'Settings') and fiddle with whatever settings you want to there. Then go to 'Privacy' and tighten up your settings there, so strangers can't stalk you (and burgle your house because they know you're away).
  10. Do the same in Twitter. If you click 'Settings', you can go to 'Security and privacy' and change your settings there. Also in 'Settings' you can go to 'Apps' and revoke access of any that are posting to your timeline or that you simply don't want there.
  11. Repeat the process for your other social networks - especially Google. Google links loads of stuff for your 'convenience' but it's also a pain if you're trying to keep a handle on your security and privacy. Go to your account settings in Google to set things as you want them.
  12. Use second layer authentication. You may have spotted this in the above-mentioned social networks. What happens after you've set this up, is that you get a code sent to your phone which you need as well as your password to log in. This is handy if you're relying on using a lot of different computers while you travel, rather than your own.
  13. Delete extra accounts if you have them. When things merge (eg YouTube and Google) you sometimes end up having more than one account. By merging them or deleting one, you keep the amount of stuff you have to do and remember to a minimum. The exception is email - it's sometimes handy to have a separate email address for travelling.
  14. Never click on a link in an email that you weren't expecting. This applies whether it's from a bank, PayPal, or your mate. Your bank will never email you, and if it's another site, type in the site address yourself and log in instead of clicking the link. If it's a mate, text or phone them (don't email them in case their account has been compromised - read this link to our report on an email scam for more details).
  15. Teach your family and friends. They're sometimes the worst for compromising your security! Tell your mate you don't want them to talk about the fact you're on your travels, and your snap-happy chum that you don't want to be tagged in their photos. If someone sends a group email and doesn't bcc (blind carbon copy - it means other people can't see your email address) - ask them to either do that in future or to take you off their email list.
  16. Finally, go with your instinct. Whether it's a single word in an email that just doesn't sound like your mate, or a funny feeling about that guy lurking behind you in the internet cafe - your instinct is telling you something for a reason. Yeah, it could be nothing, but if you're right, it'll save you a whole lot of grief.


How careful are you with your online life when you go travelling? Tell us in the comments!