Wouter was hacked at a bar on holiday

Man op vakantie in een cafe

Now that corona measures in many placesare at a lower level, we are going on holiday more often this summer. Chances are that your phone, tablet and maybe even your laptop will be in your suitcase. We would almost forget that all these devices are extra vulnerable to a virus when travelling. In this holiday special, you can read how to use the internet safely while travelling and how to avoid unpleasant surprises as much as possible. And it's not all that difficult!

Free unsafe wifi

Free wifi in (internet) cafés, restaurants, hotels and bed & breakfasts: it remains popular. Internet is almost a basic necessity of life. Within Europe, roaming (internet on your cell phone abroad) is fortunately becoming cheaper, but outside Europe it is often still expensive. Therefore, if only out of fear of high bills later, we quickly connect to free wifi networks so we can surf the net to our heart's content. But is that wifi really safe? And do we secretly underestimate the risks to our safety because we 'really need the internet'? The fact is that people who connect to public networks on holiday are regularly hacked.

This also happened to UU employee Wouter, who wishes to remain anonymous (the man in the photo is not Wouter). Three months ago, while on holiday outside Europe, he connected to a public hotspot. "I didn't have internet abroad on my phone at the time, so I connected to the public wifi. I didn't see much danger in that, I didn't really think about it." A day later, spam emails were being sent from his private email account, and he received emails requesting password changes. "Apparently, my data traffic was intercepted while I was having a drink and surfing the web at the beach bar. I only noticed it when a relative of mine sent me a WhatsApp message asking me what kind of emails I was sending to him. I was quite shocked by that. Since then, I only use my 4G connection when I'm on holiday, or a VPN if I have to. This really woke me up. Wouter's story is not an isolated one: people are regularly hacked in this way. The consequences also vary.

The bigger the safer?

Wifi at well-known chains such as Starbucks and McDonalds can also be a risk. Not that the chain's wifi network is necessarily unsafe, but you never know if there is someone around who is mimicking the company's free wifi network. You think you are connected to the right network, but without noticing you are connected to the hacker's hotspot sitting in a corner with his or her laptop. That hacker is hogging all your data while you share your holiday photos with the people back home. If you have 'automatically connect to known wifi networks' enabled on your device, you could even have your data captured while your phone is still in your bag. This is because your phone sees a familiar wifi name that you have connected to before and therefore thinks it is safe and secure.

Some governments are also lurking

It is well known that there are high-risk countries where you have to be extra careful with your device. This applies particularly to people who are interesting to governments because, for example, they have access to interesting research data. Sometimes this goes so far that phones and laptops are tapped in the plane on the way to the destination country: often when they are connected to the plane's wifi. But Bluetooth is also a risk. This almost sounds like a film, but it is reality.

What does UU advice?

Those who take digital equipment with them always run a certain risk. But we can reduce that risk considerably. This is how you do it:

  • Do not use public wifi. Not even in your hotel. Is there no other way? Then always use a reliable VPN (read here the article of the consumers' association (in Dutch)).
  • Make sure you have a large (or unlimited) data bundle. Ask your provider for advice. Avoid paying extra afterwards: you want to be able to use it carefree.
  • Do you have unlimited data? Then you can also turn your own phone into a hotspot (this is called tethering), so your travelling companions can use your hotspot for safe internet access. Choose a strong password and check your provider's fair use policy as well.
  • Do you want to stream a lot (watch series and films) and is mobile data not an option? Then choose to use, for example, a second device (such as an old iPad or phone) on which no accounts are linked (or accounts that you do not use for anything else) and on which there is no data.
  • Also set up 2FA for your private accounts (list at the bottom of the page). This makes it much harder for cybercriminals to access your data.
  • Are you going on a business trip and taking UU equipment with you? Then we have a special information page with safety requirements and tips.
  • And of course: choose strong passwords and make sure your operating system is up-to-date.

In addition, the UU also protects UU data on mobile devices with Solis Cloud Endpoint management (SCEM). This is an additional measure (currently being deployed at the UU) to the things you can do yourself.

Ready for take-off?

These tips will help you have a carefree holiday and ensure that everyone, including your phone and tablet, remains 'virus-free'! Do you still have questions about your digital safety on holiday? Don't hesitate and mail to informatiebeveiliging@uu.nl.