Lonely Planet Writer

Why public Wi-Fi on holiday could put you at risk from hackers

How good are you at unplugging from your online life on vacation? If you’re like the people questioned in a new survey, you probably aren’t that good at switching off, but it’s a practise that is leaving many of us open to potential security risks.

A survey by cyber security company McAfee found that a third of us primarily connect to the internet using publicly available Wi-Fi. Digital Detox: Unwind, Relax and Unplug found that while 58% of respondents know how to check if a Wi-Fi network is secured and safe to use, less than half take the time to ensure their connection is secured.

Many travellers on holidays find it hard to switch off online. Image: EyesWideOpen/Getty Images
Many travellers on holidays find it hard to switch off online. Image: EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

While most vacationers try to unwind and relax, many find it nearly impossible to unplug from their laptops, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets and more. Fifty-seven percent of respondents went on vacation with the intent to stay connected and not unplug from their devices. This unwillingness to unplug opens the door for hackers taking advantage of travellers’ staying connected during their time off, according to McAfee.

Only 43% of survey respondents went on vacation in the last year with the intent to unplug, and 52% indicated that they spend at least an hour a day on vacation using their connected devices. The younger they are, the worse it affects them as 52% of individuals in their 20s reported experiencing anxiety because of unplugging compared to 37% of people in their 40s.

Many travellers on holidays find it hard to switch off online. Image: Monica and Michael Sweet
Many travellers on holidays find it hard to switch off online. Image: Monica and Michael Sweet

McAfee says that the practice of using unsecured Wi-Fi access points that are easily hackable leave travellers open to the possibility of having their personal information compromised. It offered these tips to help secure your personal information and devices.

Tips from McAfee

Many travellers on holidays find it hard to switch off online. Image: Jamie Grill
Many travellers on holidays find it hard to switch off online. Image: Jamie Grill

Browse securely when away from home

Ensure that you are connecting securely while travelling and avoid using public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. If you absolutely must connect to a public network, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like McAfee Safe Connect. A VPN will keep your information private and ensure that data goes straight from your device to where you are connecting.

Update your devices

The first line of defense for your devices is you, so it’s important to take a few precautions to stay safe. Make sure your devices’ operating system and applications are kept updated. Using old versions of software could leave you open to potential security vulnerabilities.

Install cross-device security

After you’ve updated your devices with the latest software install comprehensive security. A solution like McAfee LiveSafe can help your devices stay clear of viruses and other unwanted malware.

Use a device locating app

If you lose your connected device, especially on vacation, it can be difficult to recover. Location applications can help you find, lock and even erase your device’s data in the event of theft or loss.