Are you a digital nomad? 5 Tips to Stay Safe.

Written by Christoan Smit

16 Aug, 2019

Digital nomadism is on the rise. More and more people are doing a lot of their work from airport lounges, in coffee shops and, yes, for real, from the beach or next to the pool.

Just like any camel-riding, elephant-riding or horse-riding nomad, Internet-riding nomads too have to know the perils of the road they use, learn how to avoid them and be prepared to deal with them when they crop up.

Here’s a road map of the various places and perils to avoid on your epic journey:

The Poisoned Wells of Wi-Fi

The shimmering waters of public Wi-Fi is any nomad’s greatest temptation. It’s free. It’s right there. Everyone else is using it and their laptops haven’t caught fire yet, so it should be okay, right?

But, alas, the wells are poisoned. Public Wi-Fi has a huge and as-yet unresolved issue with the way it encrypts your data – basically, anyone can scoop it up.

Secondly, a very common occurrence is Session Hijacking, in which a hack tool is uploaded to your device (via the unsecure Wi-Fi) enabling cyber criminals to watch your every move on the Internet, and when you sign out, they actually keep the session open and access your accounts.

Lastly, Rogue Wi-Fi is becoming more common. Sophisticated ones impersonate legitimate Wi-Fi points to a tee, whereas the less-sophisticated ones provide a cosmetically close match – e.g. MacD0NALDS Free Wi-Fi (the O is actually a zero). Guess what happens when you connect to a Rogue Wi-Fi point…

Your best defence is of course having your own GSM Internet connection – either through your phone or through a dongle – but that doesn’t help much when you’re sitting in a foreign country that doesn’t support your particular mobile carrier.

The alternative solution is VPN – Virtual Private Network. VPN creates an encrypted ‘tunnel’ directly from your device to its destination server, such as your email account, Microsoft account or hosted desktop.

The Stealers of Shiny Devices

71% of all device thefts are primarily about the device – a shiny thing to sell to some unsuspecting passer-by. However, device thieves have become aware of the potential value of the data the device holds, and there seems to be a slight increase in the after-theft sale of data.

Simply put: Look after your device. Never leave it unattended (even for just a second) and always shut it down or log out when it’s not in use, with a strong password to log back in. Also invest the time to learn how to use the remote-wiping features that nowadays come built-in with many devices and/or operating systems.

The Kidnappers of Data

Ransomware has become the most lucrative form of crime ever known to man. It’s cost-to-profit ratio is insane, and it’s not particularly life-threatening to the criminal, unlike other forms of crime.

Ransomware relies on 3 things: Old operating systems (or new ones that haven’t had their security updates), no or useless antivirus software, and gullible users.

Obviously, make sure your devices are new(ish) and up-to-date, with a premium antivirus (yes, even Mac). Then, be careful. Don’t trust unsolicited emails, especially not attachments, and make sure the sender is really who they say they are before opening or replying to an unexpected email – you can hover over, right-click or click ‘Details’ in most email platforms to see the true identity of the sender. Figure out how this feature works on your machine and use it whenever you’re in doubt.

The Campfire Talk of Indiscretion

Social media is every nomad’s best friend when it comes to keeping in touch with friends, family and colleagues, however, caution should be exercised when posting. “Wow, Tenerife is amazing!” is a nice way of telling people you’re not home, and that in itself should alarm you.

Indiscreet talk on social media has led to many people getting burgled while away from home, and the more you put out there, the easier it makes things for cyber stalkers to build a profile from which they can deduce things like passwords, answers to security questions or even full-on identity theft.

The Purveyors of False Maps & Compasses

Fake tools that ‘speed up your PC now’, fake antiviruses and even entirely fake websites that either steal your data or trick you into paying for something you’ll never get or donating to a charity that doesn’t exist, abound on the Internet. Also beware of pirate software, ‘free’ downloads of software you really should be paying for and free music or video downloads.

Below are a few top tips for keeping your nomadic existence safe:

  • Keep all your devices up to date and install a respectable antivirus with built-in Internet security features (top brands such as Webroot, McAffee, Norton, Bitdefender, Avira, Eset often have this either included, or available as an add-on)
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi and if you absolutely have to use it, then use a VPN from a trusted provider (again, top brands such as Webroot, McAffee, Norton, Bitdefender, Avira, Eset often have this either included, or available as an add-on)
  • Use a hosted desktop – this is a virtual computer that is hosted in a data centre far, far away, to which you connect using your mobile device/laptop. The idea is to have zero data on your device, and instead to have all your data on your hosted desktop. Even if your device gets nicked, your data should still be safe and you simply have to get another device, log in, and carry on working.
  • Be careful of what you say on social media
  • Be sharp. Trust but verify, and if it’s too good to be true, walk away. Check spelling! The devil’s in the details.
  • Be sharp… but not paranoid. Remember that competence breeds confidence, so take the time to learn more about cyber security, how it all works, and what the real dangers are, rather than jumping at shadows