Staying Safe Online

If you are a writer, photographer, traveler, or even like the idea of being one of those things, then you probably spend a lot of time online. We upload, we download, and we just look around. We plan our next trip and read about the trips of others. And when we do all that, there is a certain level of risk involved. When we are online while traveling, the risk goes up…a lot. The days where we only had to worry about computer viruses are long. Now we have phishing attacks, packet sniffers, keystroke loggers, government surveillance, data theft, worms and ransomware.

To keep our lives and our devices relatively safe isn’t that hard, but it does take some thought and effort. I have had my credit card number stolen twice, each time while traveling overseas. I know it is not possible to guarantee our devices and our private information stay safe, but we can apply the 80-20 rule and do some simple things that will greatly improve our changes.

Without making any changes to your devices or spending any money, there are 3 simple things you can do that will help.

  1. Never connect to a wi-fi that unless it requires a password. This does 2 things. First, it lets you know whose wi-fi you are connecting to. Just because the wi-fi identifies itself as belonging to your hotel, does not guarantee it belongs to them. Get the password from the hotel and then at least you know it is theirs. Second, if the wi-fi has a password you have some indication that they might be using encryption. Encryption makes it difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on your connection.
  2. Don’t open attachments from someone you don’t know. You have heard this before, but this is still one of the most common ways that devices become infected.
  3. Password protect all your devices. Yes, it is a headache to have to deal with a password every time you want to use your device, but that is the point. You want it to be a headache for someone else to do the same thing. Don’t make it easy for them.

In addition to the 3 things you can do, there are 3 applications you should have on every device: antivirus/anti-malware, a password manager, and a VPN (virtual private network).

Antivirus/anti-malware: This is the most basic level of protection and no device should ever be without it. There are many different antivirus applications, most of them very good, but I use Avast. It offers protection for all of your devices and there is a free option, but I typically get the Premium Security package.

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Password manager: A password manager keeps track of all your passwords and when you visit a website it can fill in your username and password for you. You only have to remember one password to protect them all. The biggest advantage to using a password manager is that you can use very complex passwords and not have to use the same password for multiple sites. I have used Lastpass for many years and am very happy with it.

VPN: Every time you connect to a website, either through wi-fi, on your mobile, or through a wired connection, you open yourself up to a variety of risks (including government surveillance). Furthermore, when you make that connection, the site on the other end knows exactly where you are. Using a VPN with strong encryption and that has servers all over the world will deal with both of those issue. I strongly suggest the one that I use…NordVPN. Here is a little trick I use when making airline reservations. I activate my NordVPN and connect to a Canadian VPN server. NordVPN makes this very easy. Then I connect to Expedia or another travel site. The site believes I am in Canada and quite often that reduces the price they present to me. NordVPN has servers all over the work.

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