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Digital Security?

I admit that I’m one of those people who now relies on technology for most aspects of my life. I do business online, pay my bills online, manage my investments online, communicate online and well, basically, run my life online.

However, this weekend, I read an a article in the New York Times entitled Traveling Light In A Time Of Digital Thievery.”

While the majority of the article is about how business people and some government workers have to take extra precaution in some countries they visit to ward of electronic eavesdropping and thievery, it got me wondering—how much does a leisure traveler have to worry about the same things?

When I first started to seriously travel, there was no internet, email, cellphones,smartphones, tablets or the like. Every day I had to call my answering service to see if anyone needed me. If an important message was left, the only option was to call. In most cases, problems would have to wait until I got home.

Not anymore. I can instantly get in touch with almost anyone anywhere without having to actually talk to them. I can buy or trade stocks via my broker’s app, I can respond to emails or text messages, or even “chat” live, I can take care of banking business, edit this website, and if need be even talk to someone—and all via my smartphone. I don’t even need a computer.

But is it now safe to do that? Is it better to use a smartphone  or a regular computer? How much difference does a tablet have over these other devices? Is using an app to connect safer than using the smartphone or tablet browser? Or are they all susceptible to hacking?

If it isn’t safe to log on to take care of personal business why bother taking any of these devices with me? But if I don’t, how do I, in this world of cyberspace, keep everything going?

Where is it safe to log on when away from home or office? Should I preload passwords so I automatically log onto a site when I go to it, or is it safer not to? But if I don’t, and I type it in, can someone then steal that password?

I don’t have the answer to these questions. Not being able to “connect” for two or three weeks at a time isn’t realistic.. I guess I’m just going to have to chance it and do the best I can.

But what about all of you? Do any of you take precautions against cybertheft while traveling and what are they? This is an area, I believe, more and more people need to think about.

Reader Comments (5)

A relatively easy and inexpensive way to reliably connect to the Internet in a secure way is to use a "personal VPN" service.

Virtual Private Networks are used by most companies to secure communications from prying eyes. But if you don't work for such a company setting up your own VPN is expensive and not for the faint of heart technically-speaking. A personal VPN service makes it easy to secure your Internet connection no matter where you are working.

When I was in the market for a VON service five years ago I tried a variety of products before settling on Witopia (https://www.witopia.net/). It had the right combination of ease of use, security and cost.

Witopia has two plans with $50 and $70 annual fees for unlimited data transfers. If you travel a lot to different countries and you want to protect different portable devices the $70 plan is the way to go.

Witopia compatibility:

Mac OSX — Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion
Windows XP, XP 64-bit, Vista, Vista 64-bit, Windows 7
Linux – as long as you have a working knowledge of it and don’t think it as “Free Windows.”
Apple iOS — iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Google Chromebook
HP webOS

Why Should You Use A Personal VPN? https://www.witopia.net/support/why/

I use Witopia on my Macs, iPhone and iPad. Installation is easy and so is using the VPN. If you ever need it Witopia's tech support is fast and available 24/7. Witopia has secure servers in over thirty countries; that makes it possible to avoid ISP blocking when on the road. In the early days VPN was often slower than an open Internet connection. But in recent years I have found Witopia to often be faster than Charter servers.

When using a personal VPN service you can feel secure that your data will not be intercepted when using public WiFi hotspots and wired networks at places like hotels. Witopia products have a thirty-day refund period os you have plenty of time to put it through its paces and see how it works for you.
February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGV
I try to increase my level of security by reducing my accessibility. I realize that I'm not normal by a long shot. But here's what I do.

In my personal and business life I cultivate a strict schedule/level of accessibility. I'm not available all the time or any time someone wants me to be. They have to reach me during business hours when I would be at the office and not expect me to respond outside of that. And when I'm sick, I'm unavailable. They have to deal with my team mates. It's amazing how well that works when you train people to it.

So when I travel, I set the next level of restriction.

If it's personal travel, I am unavailable to any business stuff. Period. My family and friends are like me and not obsessive about continual contact. In fact I was in Africa for 3 weeks without my husband and our only communication was a text message each way once or twice a day.

If it's business travel in the U.S. I'm available by cell phone and email as I have opportunity to answer using my smart phone. Anything too big for that gets handled by my team mates. If I'm traveling internationally, the accessibility goes down from that depending on the country and availability of reliable wi-fi. No cell phone.

I realize that's a bit old fashioned, but the obsession with connectivity is going off the deep end and I really don't want to go over with it. I also realize that I have more choice than some people, but it's still about setting boundaries and sticking to them. That's the best security of all.

Even VPNs can be hacked. There really is no such thing as perfect security and the more accessible we make ourselves for contact the more open we are to danger.
February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterK-eM
Lots of interesting info on travel and electronic security here:
February 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteret
Granted, there is no such thing as "perfect security." However, that should not discourage travelers from doing things that greatly enhance their security. Thieves and scammers who prey on travelers look for easy "marks." They are not inclined to or able to deal with people who take basic security precautions.

While a VPN is theoretically open to hacking, it requires a lot of effort and technological know-how. Plus the VPN server must have been configured improperly for the hacking to be successful. The kind of digital security threats that average travelers face are eliminated by using a VPN.

Scammers who are monitoring a network are unable to intercept data being transmitted using a VPN. There is no way for them to defeat the encryption locally; the VPN server itself would have to be compromised and that is highly unlikely to happen. The thieves are looking for unencrypted data and since there is plenty of that, there is no incentive to hack a VPN eve if they had the know-how to do so. Which they don't: these people are sitting with a laptop using easy to acquire and use software. They are not technological geniuses with the smarts and resources to hack VPNs. They are the digital equivalent of pickpockets...

Travelers who use a personal VPN service can rest assured that their digital data is as safe as currently technologically possible, which is very safe indeed.
March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGV
You might want to look at Strong VPN (http://www.strongvpn.com) if you travel to different countries as they have service in 19 countries around the world. They offer a number of packages for a reasonable price (no I am not associated with them and have no gain for recommending).
Also setting up a firewall on your PC would be the first line of defense and is free with the OS platform, but your data broadcast over the ‘free wi-fi’ at the hotel or café is still vulnerable.
Also look to see if you can see ‘connected devices’ to your system like you can with MAC. I prefer to travel with my MAC because I can turn off the broadcast of my wi-fi presence and most quick searches will not see my computer. You can do that with Windows too, but MAC is so much more user friendly. With my work Windows PC, the VPN is required immediately after the PC login when not directly connected to a hard wired access to the corporate network; even the wireless corporate network requires VPN connection.
As stated before, so many people are naïve to PC security and the lurkers rely on those more vulnerable targets as easy prey… less work for the hacker, and with so much ‘easy access out there, why bother with the more savvy and secure connections
March 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike S

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