Although the wide availability of the Internet makes it possible for everyone from digital nomads to holidaying executives to work remotely overseas, it is fair to say that online security remains a frequent concern. Without doubt, it is very hard for anyone other than a fully fledged tech nerd/IT professional to determine what is or isn't safe when logging on to new networks, especially when they're in foreign countries and/or displaying information in a language you don't fully understand.
This was something that always kept me on my toes when I used to be a digital nomad, working and travelling around Asia and Europe as a freelance web writer. Indeed, it didn't matter how relaxing or reassuring my environs were, I would always adopt a 'safety first' approach when it came to cracking open my netbook and getting online for work. Although it seemed a little over-bearing to some of my fellow nomads and travellers at the time, it was a strategy that served me well as I never once encountered any web-based problems or network incursions while I was away exploring the world on a steady (yet very modest) income.
The safety first approach
Working as a web-based writer, my priority has always been to protect the personal data I keep on my netbook/secure websites I use (i.e. bank accounts, PayPal, etc). When it came to working overseas, I found the following precautions to be supremely beneficial whenever I tried to connect and use an Internet connection.
Be wary of logging on to any kind of open network, even those in international airports and smart-looking cafes. Confidential information and open networks go together about as well as high heels and music festivals so these are something that should be avoided in this particular context. Where possible, try to connect to a password-protected network run by the hotel or hostel you're staying at. Although this doesn’t guarantee security, it is certainly a better option than logging on to an open network.
Make use of a PayPal ‘security key’ and password tokens (available from some banks). These handy features add an additional layer of security which can help to provide greater peace of mind when making payments online. They work by making you generate a security key after you have entered a password on the relevant sites; if you don't enter this key when prompted then you won’t be able to logon. Simple yet very effective.
Every time you logon to a secure site overseas, imagine you are making a withdrawal from an ATM in a seedy city neighbourhood after midnight – do what you need to do and get the hell out of there. The quicker you are, the less likely you are to be 'noticed' by those who are able to track such activities online.
Doing work offline and then connecting to a network only when needed to is a good habit to get into. This used to work well for me as I used to write a few articles in Word then upload them all and edit them at the same time when I submitted them for publishing. Again, reducing your presence online will help to keep you below the radar of unscrupulous observers.
If anything (and I mean anything) out of the ordinary comes up on your screen – flashing pop-up boxes, strange messages, etc.) then don't think twice – react IMMEDIATELY: disconnect from the network, turn off your device and go somewhere else, pronto.
Although it is impossible to remain 100 % secure all the time when working online overseas (particularly if you're frequently bouncing from one destination to the next), adopting a safety first approach will definitely help you to mitigate some of the more significant threats. Sure, it may seem like a chore at times, having to take a few extra minutes to get online or delaying your work because you're wary about a particular connection, but believe me, it's well worth it. All it takes is one unauthorised incursion into your bank account, one hacking of your website, or one breach of your personal online data to jeopardise everything you've worked for and potentially ruin your time away.
It may not be very rock and roll and it might not fit in with your romantic notions of being an international digital nomad, but playing it safe – at least when it comes to online security – is undoubtedly the way to go when working and travelling abroad.
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