Your Summer Vacation Guide to Mobile Device and Public Wi-Fi Security

By Julie Koyano

Vacation may be a time for rest and relaxation, but your mobile devices likely won’t be getting a break. Now that smartphones and tablets are part of our daily lives, we spend more time than ever staying connected, even while on vacation. Just think of all the selfies you’ll be taking and updates you’ll be posting to your social networks! But, while sharing your vacation moments will be a fun way to capture your R&R, your fun vacation could turn into a bad situation if you choose to use your mobile devices on free public Wi-Fi during your trip. Learn how to be aware of using your mobile devices on public Wi-Fi at key points on your vacation.


Once you’ve found a comfortable spot to settle in to wait for your flight, the first thing you might do is take out your cell phone to search for free Wi-Fi. Some airports offer free, time-limited Wi-Fi, but unless there’s a password to use the hotspot, it’s likely to be unsecured. When a Wi-Fi hotspot is unsecured, that means your data is unprotected. Anybody on the same network could spy on your information. If you do decide to use free public Wi-Fi, be careful about the types of sites you visit. It’s safest not to log in to any sites that require a password, because hackers could be using software kits to capture your passwords. Avoid any websites that hold any of your sensitive information, like banking sites or transactional sites on which you store credit card information.


Once you’re in the air, you may be tempted to get online, too. Several airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, but these aren’t necessarily safe, either. More than a few people have had their laptop information spied on while using in-flight Wi-Fi, including a journalist whose email had been hacked by a fellow passenger (link is external) who read every message he sent or received during the flight. Use in-flight Wi-Fi as you would public Wi-Fi anywhere: with caution.


Now that you’ve arrived safely at your destination and are truly ready to start unwinding, don’t get too relaxed about using your hotel’s Wi-Fi. As with airport and airline Wi-Fi, hotel hotspots are not always secure — even with a password. After all, hotels specialize in hospitality, not information security, so there’s no guarantee that the person who set up the Wi-Fi network turned on all the security features. Browsing online for restaurants or local tourist attractions will be low-risk activities, but it will be a good idea to avoid logging in to any sensitive online accounts.

5 Tips to Reduce the Risks of Public Wi-Fi

If you don’t have access to a VPN and need to use public Wi-Fi during your vacation, remember these tips to protect your data and mobile devices as much as possible:

1. Start by selecting the most secure settings on your mobile devices. Turn off any features that will automatically connect your device to any available Wi-Fi network. While you’re at it, turn off your Bluetooth unless you need to use it.

2. Change your passwords before you travel. If you think you’ll need to log in to accounts with sensitive information — like social media, banking, or email accounts — switch to new, complex passwords before you leave, and then change them back when you get home.

3. Be sure to update your software and apps. We’ve all been guilty of ignoring updates. However, most software updates are released because they offer fixes for newly discovered vulnerabilities. You could also add security software to your devices, like Norton Security Suite which warns you of suspicious apps before you download them.

4. Avoid logging in to any online accounts that store any of your sensitive information. That list could be long if you think about it: retail websites, health provider sites, banks or other financial institution sites, email, and social media.

5. If you do surf online, make sure the URL of the website you’re visiting starts with “HTTPS” because the “S” stands for secure, and data is encrypted.

Remember, you’re on vacation to take a break. Maybe that could include taking some temporary time off from your mobile devices, too, and avoiding the risks that come with using public Wi-Fi.

Julie Koyano I've worked for Symantec for several years, and I am always surprised by how many people still do not understand the dangers of living in a digital world. Although I'm not a techie, working at Symantec has made me very aware of online risks. Now I share that awareness with other people by providing information they can use in their everyday lives to protect themselves online.

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