Just like the destination itself, logging onto a foreign free WiFi hotspot can be a journey into the unknown — and one that could be full of unpleasant surprises.
There's no question that smartphones and tablets have revolutionised the way we live and that's why when it comes to taking a holiday with them, rather than from them, there appears to be no debate: the phone and the slate and often even a notebook are as high on the list as packing clean underwear.
And because of this, holidaymakers need to keep in mind their digital as well as their personal safety if taking a vacation this summer.
You may feel it's fine to use a hotspot at an airport or a renowned hotel but in general a public hotspot is just that: the opposite of private.
As Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor at F-Secure Labs, says: "It may feel private because you're using your personal device, but it's not." He advises against using a public hotspot for anything personal or for anything that requires you to enter a password or user details. Stick to browsing.
From hotel lobbies to cafes and bars, a number of places offer free computer access. Unless you can 100% guarantee that they're not brimming with malware or keystroke-registering viruses, use them for checking the weather, following sports or reading the headlines, but nothing else.
Take e-mail precautions
Sullivan suggests setting up a special one-off e-mail address specifically for use during a vacation so that if it's an emergency and you have to use a public WiFi hotspot or communal PC to get in touch with someone, the damage is minimised.
"That way if someone hacks your vacation e-mail account, they might see emails with your mom and the cat sitter, but they won't have access to the other sensitive data that would be in your main e-mail account," he says. Setting up a one-off account will also somewhat minimise the impact of losing or of having a phone or tablet stolen.
Banking away from home
The simple answer is to stick to physical banks if at all possible. But if using online banking is unavoidable, bite the bullet and accept the data usage roaming fees that come with using a smartphone to access the Internet in a foreign country and do it via the dedicated app. But make sure to sign out of it again when the transaction is completed.
Saving your memories
For most people the content on their devices is just as important as the devices themselves. So make sure they are totally backed up before the holidays start and if the smartphone is serving as a camera too, consider using some form of cloud storage for preserving images — such as Apple's iCloud if you have an iPhone — or, for Android users, think about swapping out and storing the SD cards.
If you're using a real, high specification camera rather than a smartphone for capturing memories, think about the professional photographer's trick of covering the device in duct tape and stickers so that the camera looks like it's falling apart rather than a state-of-the-art imaging unit, therefore avoiding unwanted attention.
Saving the device
For a number of years, Apple has offered a free ‘Find My Phone' service and app that enables iPhone and iPad owners to track and locate a missing device and, in the case of theft, remotely erase its contents. Make sure it is set up before you go.
For Sony Xperia users, there is a similar Sony-specific service that is currently rolling out globally, while at the beginning of August, Google announced that it will be launching the same type of find-my-phone service currently available to iPhone users to the larger Android device-owning community before the end of the month. — ©AFP/Relaxnews 2013