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Navigating Internet Cafes: Staying Safe While Surfing The Web On Your Travels

March 15, 2012

Internet cafes can be sketchy places, but often during traveling, they are hard to avoid. As many rely on the internet to keep in touch with relatives, make future travel arrangements, and figure out the local scene, it’s a good idea for any travelers to become familiar with a few basic ways to stay secure while surfing the internet.

Before you ever leave home:Navigating internet cafes - keeping safe while traveling abroad - Volunteer Global

First, you should decide before you travel whether or not you want to bring your own laptop, iPad, or netbook. While there is always the risk of losing expensive technology, it’s simply safer to use your own device. In this article, however, I’ll focus on using public computers in Internet cafes and how to stay safe while using them.

Passwords are, if possible, even more important abroad than at home. Before you leave home, make sure that all of your important passwords are different; this will make it much harder for people trying to steal your information. If you have trouble remembering multiple passwords, you might want to think of a system in which all of the passwords fit. For instance, I was once advised to make my passwords titles of books from my favorite author or even different varieties of Girl Scout Cookies. Do whatever you need to do without ever writing the password down!

Secondly, you may want to make a dummy e-mail account to which all of your work or personal e-mails are forwarded. Personally, I have e-mails abroad forwarded to a Gmail account so that my work information is kept private.

Choosing a location:

First of all, not all Internet cafes are created equal. If you have a reliable point of contact at your travel site, ask for a recommendation for a local Internet cafe. Since regular Internet access is not common in many countries, plenty of locals use cafes and may be able to steer your towards a place that they trust.

If you don't have a reliable point of contact in your travel destination, it might be a good idea to contact a local official travel agency to see if they can help you find a safe(r), regulated, Internet cafe. You will want to avoid establishments that seem out-of-the-way or downright sketchy, even if they are cheaper than their glossier counterparts.

Navigating internet cafes - Keeping safe while traveling abroad - Volunteer Global

I typically trust gamers; if I notice an Internet cafe that is full of people running online games, I know that the Internet system is likely to be fast, reliable, and sophisticated. If there is someone running the Internet cafe, ask them questions about whether or not you are allowed to use a USB drive and what kind of security measures they have on the computer—it may save you in the long run!

While you're there:

Before you do anything, be sure to tuck your bags underneath your knees. It is easy to get too distracted by access to the Internet and thus, home, to watch your stuff. Then, check out the types of browsers the machine has. If it has Google Chrome, definitely open an incognito window before doing anything else. This way, even if someone were able to see what websites you were viewing, they would not be able to see any information that you sent to the website. There are horrible people in the world who make a living off of stealing passwords to valuable information, and you need to do as much as possible to protect yourself.

You need to be aware of programs calls keystroke loggers that keep a record of all keys pushed, making it easy to keep track of usernames and passwords. To avoid these, I try to type the alphabet in a word document and then copy/paste the letters into my username and password fields. You can never be too safe, right?

I typically trust gamers; if I notice an Internet cafe that is full of people running online games, then I know that the Internet system is likely to be fast, reliable, and sophisticated.

As well, if you're going to be sending sensitive e-mails, you may want to download Safekeys to a USB device and use this to waylay any malicious hackers.

Next, it's probably not a good idea to log into all of your personal accounts in one sitting—it just makes it too easy for someone trying to steal your information. Instead, do only what you need to and save the rest for another day. This specifically applies to banking, e-mail, and purchasing online. Keep as much information as you can on a USB drive and make sure you remember to take it with you.

Logging off:

Just, do it! You want to make sure that nothing is left opened when you leave the Internet cafe. It might even be a good idea to go back through the sites you visited to make sure none of your usernames were saved before you cash out and leave. So, good luck, stay safe, and enjoy your surfing!

For more information on safety for using your own computer, check out Fox Nomad's post on encryption and cyber security.

Photo credits: Glen; Jared Tarbell, Creative Commons.