Why Travellers Should Always use a VPN

Most of us now consider a VPN service as an essential tool for doing anything online.  If you travel and use access points in places like hotels, cafes and airports – using a VPN is pretty much essential.   If you don’t then it’s almost inevitable that at some point you’ll be the victim of some sort of cyber crime.

One of the main issues with these free Wifi points is that they are nearly always installed and configured with someone with no comprehension of computer security.  Indeed many surveys have found a huge proportion of these devices are installed with default settings. Only the larger chain organisations are likely to have some dedicated staff able to configure these properly and even then this isn’t often the case.

Think of all the places you use free internet access, who supports the connection do you think?  Who would you call if there was a problem?  In most cases the information would be very hard to find as they are probably installed in flying visit then some vague telephone support at the end of the phone.  In smaller organisations it’s often the dreaded – ‘friend who knows computers’.

It’s why all these access points are so tempting to identity thieves and cyber criminals.  Here’s just a small selection of the major issues:

  • Central Access Points used often by hundreds of people to check secure sites like email, banking, paypal etc.
  • Often poorly configured with low security.
  • Allow access to intercept all sorts of data using Man in the Middle style attacks.
  • Allows anonymity for attackers who don’t even have to present if they hack into the router.

They’re certainly a huge attraction for organised identity thieves for example who can steal all sorts of data if they are able to hack into the router. The other popular method is to simply set up a free internal access point in the same location and give it a similar name. Setting up this somewhere near a hotel lobby or coffee shop means you can steal peoples details while they browse. This attack is often known as the “evil Twin” attack using a bogus access point.

If someone compromises an access point or gets you to connect to a fake one then your data is in real trouble. Forget about SSL or HTTPS all these can be bypassed if they have control of the access point you’re using. Pretty soon the cyber criminals can have emails accounts, banking details and all sorts of personal details.

Your only hope is to add your own personal layer of encryption which protects account names and details – for this you need a VPN. Now over the years many people have been using proxies and VPNs for a variety of reasons. However for people travelling then the overriding priority should be security. The best VPN for BBC iPlayer might not be the best VPN to keep your internet connection secure for example.

Many people use Smart DNS systems to bypass geo-blocks on popular media sites however these should be avoided. Although they can work for bypassing blocks they offer no security whatsoever and there is no encryption layer added to any of the connections. The Smart DNS services are not secure nor where they designed to offer any online protection.

The same could be said for all the specialised proxies you see for sale too. Although a proxy will hide your identity to some extent from the website you are visiting and your ISP. It will offer virtually no protection against any other sort of middle man attacks. Even some of the highly specialized ones used for merchandising bots don’t really help. You can invest hundreds of dollars in the best rotating proxies you can buy, yet without an encryption layer you are still vulnerable.

Fortunately there are some VPN services which offer the best of both worlds. Firstly avoid those who sell themselves as TV watching services, they won’t take the security side seriously. They’ll also likely have slower servers as all the users will be constantly streaming video through them. Look for companies who stress the security of their system, make sure they don’t keep logs and have proper grown up responses to privacy issues.

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