Keeping your information safe while working abroad

When working abroad, you will likely be using a variety of wifi signals on the go. Free wifi is great option, but it comes with risks. It’s important to make sure you’re being safe while using public wifi or public computers.

Is free wifi safe?

This is a complicated question to answer. While there are ways to use free wifi safely, most people do not really take the proper precautions. According to an article in PC magazine online, 53% of people can’t tell a secured network from an unsecured one. 

“A public Wi-Fi network is inherently less secure than your personal, private one, because you don’t know who set it up, or who else is connecting to it,” according to David Nield of Wired Magazine

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use public wifi, but there are certain precautions that you could be taking.

  • Use your phone instead: A cell phone network is often more secure than a public wifi network. Use your phone as a hotspot whenever you can to complete online tasks. If your phone isn’t set up for data abroad, you can easily fix that by contacting your service provider or acquiring a local sim card with data. 
  • Make sure systems have up-to-date security software: Security software protects your devices from malware and will alert you of any suspicious activity happening in the background while you’re online. There are paid and free options available for security software and most can be downloaded onto your computer from the provider’s site. 
  • Make sure file sharing is off: This setting is usually turned off, but double-check before you jump onto a public network. Turning this setting off will eliminate access to your computer files or data. You can turn this setting off by going into the “Network and Sharing” center in the control panel.
  • Use authentic wifi connections: When using public wifi, it is crucial to confirm you are using the signal provided by the location. If you stray off the path here, you may end up using a copycat signal created by a hacker. Password protected signals are always better, though you may not always have this option. 
  • Use a VPN: VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” A VPN adds an extra layer of security and privacy when you are online. There are a variety of VPN service providers out there at a range of costs. 
  • Use secured sites: When making payments or logging in to personal accounts, make sure the site you are using is secure. The url for a secured site will begin with “https” instead of “http.” You will also see a closed lock in the address bar.
  • Password protect your devices: Set your lock screen so that it comes up any time your device goes to sleep. It may feel like a hassle to have to login every time you want to use your computer or phone, but you’ll be grateful to have that protection if your device gets lost or stolen.

Precautions to take when using public computers

If you are not traveling with a laptop or a smartphone, you may have to use a computer in a hostel, hotel or internet cafe. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some further precautions you can take.

  • Avoid logging in to personal accounts: If possible, don’t check your email or your bank accounts while on a public computer. Instead, use public computers for things like checking flights, lodging or activities in your area. If you absolutely have to log in to one of your personal accounts, try to do so through a VPN.
  • Avoid saving login information: If you do need to log in, be wary of sites that offer to save your password for you, and make sure you click “no.” Also make sure that when you log into a site, the box marked “keep me logged in” is unchecked. Always log out before you close a page.
  • Clear your browser data: When you’re done, go into the browser history and clear the cache. In Chrome, you can do this by clicking on the three vertical dots in the top right part of the screen and going to “More tools.”

Other ways to keep your information safe

When it comes to security, you can always make things more secure. Here are a few more suggestions.

  • Avoid reusing passwords: Reusing passwords makes your accounts vulnerable. Ideally you will have a unique and complicated password for each of your accounts. In the event that one of your accounts becomes compromised, you won’t have to worry about a domino effect with other accounts. 
  • Make passwords complicated: All too often we focus on making our passwords memorable instead of complicated. When coming up with passwords, avoid including personal information. Instead, try to create a unique combination of letters (capital and lowercase), numbers and symbols. If you feel you will have trouble keeping up with your passwords, you can use a service like LastPass to help you out.
  • Avoid emailing personal information: If someone asks for your personal information, avoid sending it over email. Instead, give the information over the phone or in person.
  • Increase security on accounts: For accounts that you use frequently, go into your account settings under “Security” and choose the option to increase your security. Follow the instructions provided.

Bottom line

When you’re working abroad free wifi is not only helpful, but often provides a lifeline to keep you on task.  You may also need it to book flights, lodging or simply check on loved ones back home.

However, whether you’re using free wifi or a public computer, you’ll need to be attentive to detailed security measures to make sure your personal information safe and secure.

Raychelle Heath

Personal finance writer

Raychelle has covered such topics as the best credit cards to use abroad and how to maximize credit card rewards. She’s originally from South Carolina, but now has adopted the life of a digital nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found teaching yoga or participating in arts outreach initiatives.