Free Wifi Hotspots Are a Frequent Source of Snooping
Cruisers love a great deal. And nothing is as good a deal as Free Wifi. As you cruise around you will see cruisers huddled around bars, coffee shops, Yacht Agents, and restaurants enjoying the free Wifi. Cruisers spend hours sending emails, doing banking, shopping online, and generally surfing the web. The question is how to keep your data safe when cruising around the world?
What most people don’t understand is how easy it is for cyber criminals to get hold of your sensitive, private internet traffic when using local free WiFi hotspots, including marina WiFi. There are software even apps designed to sniff out the packets of information sent between your computer and the website you are visiting as the signal travels over the free Wifi hotspot’s Wifi.
So the concern is how to keep your data safe when cruising? At a very minimum, you should ensure that you only visit the secure portal of any websites you log into. You can do this by making sure that you only use the Https:// and not the Http:// address for the site in question. Next, you must wait until you see the padlock icon next to the website to show you that a secure connection has been established.
This is great for things like banking. But when you’re racing from page to page researching parts or onshore activities, who has time to ensure every web connection is secure. The same goes for email and unsecured instant messages. If you work with agents to clear you into foreign countries or book marinas via emails and web forms you will end up sharing confidential data. Data such as credit card numbers, passport numbers, and boat registration papers to name a few. As a result, you end up unintentionally transmitting a host of unsecured data that can be used for all sorts of cybercrime.
How to Prevent These Unintentional Data Leaks
- Step 1 – Ensure you use an always-on VPN service
- Step 2 – Don’t share any personal details via email. If you absolutely must, split the information into multiple emails several hours apart and ask the recipient to delete the emails as soon as they have what they need
- Step 3 – Use a credit or debit card that is not linked to your main bank account. That has a small limit or you top up with funds before use. Use this card for all high-risk transactions. For more information about using bank cards while cruising please check out my article ‘Accessing Money When traveling‘.
What is a VPN?
A VPN connects your computer, phone, or tablet to a server managed by the VPN service provider. This server creates a secure tunnel that passes all of the information from your devices to the sites you are visiting. A good VPN service completely strips your data of identifiable data such as your IP address, Geolocation, device model you are using, your cell phone carrier, and a whole lot more.
The best VPN servers do not store any data on their servers. They only pass the data through their servers using military-grade encryption. An added benefit of this level of internet security is that when you are in locations where you do not wish the local government to read your internet traffic, the VPN makes it impossible for them to do so.
VPN Location Service – Hide My Location
Another added benefit not offered by all VPN services is location service. When offering VPN location services the VPN provider will have servers located all over the world. You will be able to use a local server and pass on their local IP address and Geolocation tags as your computers.
So when you want to stream a sporting event outside of the US. You select a US server and the site serving up the game will see that you are in the US. All by virtue of the location of the server you have selected. this prevents the dreaded “unavailable in your location message” so many cruising sports fans run into.
This is useful for tons of other uses. Say booking air tickets are cheaper from outside the country you currently visiting, you set your server to a location where the tickets are cheaper (or you get better consumer protection) and book via the airline’s local site for that country.
Trying to order cheap boat parts from the US and Google keeps giving you high priced local shopping options. Select a US server and the problem is solved. Trying to find a shop in Panama City, Panama and Google insist on only serving you maps of Panama City, Florida. Change your country to Panama and Problem solved! The list of VPN uses for a cruiser is almost endless.
A Word of Warning When Using VPNs
Before you do any banking including PayPal make certain your VPN is turned off unless it is set to the country of your bank accounts. If not your bank may pick up the fact that you are using a VPN terminating in a foreign country and suspect a fraudulent transaction. Which will result in a locked account. Setting to the home country of your accounts generally prevents this problem.
Which VPN Service to Use
We use Private Internet Access. We have used them for about three years after a number of cruisers in Colombia recommended that we should be using Private Internet Access. We have never had an issue and we have used the internet in some sketchy bars and places around the world. Prior to using Private Internet Access we had tried a number of VPN providers and the location services just never worked as advertised.
Their servers are fast and we haven’t noticed any speed issues with the VPN on compared to when it is off. What really important to us is that Private Internet Access does not store any of your internet traffic data. The service is certainly cheap enough at less than $3 a month, for peace of mind knowing that your data is safe in a secure tunnel when you use the internet in a dodgy location.