The online traveller, part 1: 6 basic ways to stay safe online

by Travel Paulie on April 23, 2010

Word count: ~1000.  Approx. reading time: 5~10 minutes

Before I set out I gave a lot of thought about how I was going to move around and retain some sort of consistency with regards my computing environment.  Anyone who has been to South East Asia and experienced the amazing diversity of internet cafes will have first hand “same. same. but different” experience- Yes, it’s ‘Internet’; no, it’s not the same.

If you’re not travelling, please check out my 5 Essentials to beef-up your home computing experience article.

In this particular article I’ll deal with basic security, since most safety risks can be mitigated simply through awareness of the footprint we make when we sit down in front of a computer.  I’ll follow this article up at a later date with further options for the extra security-conscious traveller.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep all technical jargon out of it as much as possible.

The risks of computing while travelling

Some of this is going to sound painfully obvious to some of you, but stick with me as I spell it all out since I know not everybody is conscious of these points.

  • Internet cafes are shared.  Just before you sat down there, Jane/Bob/Mary was sitting there right before you.  And on the same principle, Jane/Bob/Mary will sit down right after you’ve left.  What does that mean you should do?

Log Out

Seriously.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve opened up the PC and someone’s Facebook, email, MSN, Yahoo, is sitting there ready for me to rummage through.  And I never let a good rummage session pass me by!  I’ve never found an open online banking session before, but I live in hope.  If you store any sort of personal or otherwise sensitive information in your email accounts be aware that logging in using public computers connects you and everyone that uses the PC after you to them also, unless you log/sign out.

Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.

  • Anti-virus. Before settling down to do your online banking, check your balances, pay off your credit cards etc., think again.  Check with the attendant that the PCs have anti-virus software installed.  If he looks at you like you’ve just coughed H1N1 at him, bail.  Even if they do confirm that all the machines have an anti-virus installed, confirm for yourself.  On Windows XP, click Start-menu -> Control Panel -> Security Centre.  If ‘Virus Protection’ is ‘On’, you’re in the clear.  Otherwise, resort to ‘bail’.

On a side note, before you start travel, set up an automatic credit card clearing system such as Direct Debit (in the UK) so you don’t need to log into your banking systems to keep things ticking over. (this is really mostly relevant for short-term travel I guess, but worth considering none-the-less).

If you can avoid opening your online banking system, do so.  But if you must, make sure and use the clunky “virtual” keyboards some of them provide to input your login credentials so as to by-pass key-loggers if they’re present.

  • Passwords.  Always a tricky subject since people use terribly simple passwords.  Do not use one password for all your accounts – certainly not for your online banking or other secure access sites.  I can’t put it more plainly than that.

And be aware that when you type in your username and password into your web browser there is often a message to “save password”.  Always say no.  Sometimes for kicks when I’m bored I open up Firefox on the computer and check for saved passwords and I’d estimate that 1 in 5 have at least one password saved.  Incredible.  The same goes for Skype, Yahoo!, MSN messenger… look at the little check-boxes that say “Sign me in automatically”, “Remember me” – make sure none of them are checked when you click the ‘Sign-in’ button.

  • Internet Explorer.  Internet Explorer is not the internet.  It is a ‘web browser’ – your window to the internet.  Don’t touch it.  Ever.  I wrote on my other blog about 5 ways to improve your computing experience and one of them was to use another web browser such as Firefox, or Google Chrome.  Look on your desktop or start menu for these programs and use them instead.  Look for the Fox, or alternatively, download the program and install it using the link below:

Firefox 3

  • ‘You were never here’.  Part of the reason for the previous point on web browsers is for this section.  When you’re finished doing what you need doing, wipe away any trace that you (or anyone else) were ever there.
    • On Firefox, click on the Tools menu -> ‘Clear Recent History…’.  Clear everything.
    • On Chrome, click on the spanner at the top-right and select ‘Clear Browsing Data…’.  Again. clear everything.
  • Downloads.  If you download(ed) files, keep a note of where you stored them.  If they’re not personally identifiable or you don’t care, don’t worry about this part.  But if you’ve downloaded sensitive data, be sure to delete the files and then empty the recycle bin.

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3… or… L.A.P.I.Y.D. [Logout, Antivirus, Passwords, IE, You (were never here), Downloads]

Didn’t I tell you I’d keep it simple? 😉

Better safe than sorry

Perhaps you may think I’m a little paranoid, but you haven’t heard (yet) even half of the precautions that I take to secure my data and my privacy.  What I’m describing here are absolute basics and you would do well to take them to heart and become aware of the mark you leave on the computers that you use.  What I’ve outlined adds only a few moments on to your time in the cafe, and you’ll barely notice the impact on your tan.

In the next instalment(s) of this exciting series I’m going to outline more specifically how I protect my data and how I manage to transport with me my entire computing environment without a laptop.  Hold on to your hats!

Any comments or further suggestions to add to this? Please feel free to contribute them below.  Of course, if you found this amusing, interesting, or informative, and you’d like to share it, please do so also from below.  Thank you for reading!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

michelle August 11, 2010 at 19:12

Dear gentle readers,
Do exactly what Paul says here. He’s right. He’s stated it so clearly, giving you absolutely no excuse.


Paul Goodchild August 24, 2010 at 21:33

Thanks for commenting Michelle… the more people that take the time to secure themselves up, the better the world will be 🙂


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