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I'm planning on traveling to a resort in Mexico. The resort offers wifi, but I know someone who recently traveled to this resort and had their phone hacked via the wifi network. I would be wanting to use the wifi for browsing the web or playing games but am worried that, since I have my phone connected with my email and banking, that I might get hacked by using it. Is there a way to disconnect from these services and remove sensitive data from my phone prior to traveling? Or in general, any way to keep my phone safe while still enjoying wifi?

migrated from travel.stackexchange.com May 12 '16 at 9:03

This question came from our site for road warriors and seasoned travelers.

  • The friend works in IT, which concerns me. I'm hoping if an IT expert doesn't know how to keep their phone safe, maybe an experienced traveler might. My general research mostly just says to avoid using wifi at all, but I feel like this is a common enough issue that there must be some way? – Niahc May 11 '16 at 14:27
  • This is really of interest to everyone, not just travellers, so Information Security seems like the better place to go. As for your friend in IT, that does not mean that he knows security! He could just be a developer or something. – Michael Hampton May 11 '16 at 14:36
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    As a Security mod, I'm happy to have this – Rory Alsop May 11 '16 at 16:23
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This problem is solved by using a VPN. Using a VPN, your data is not visible in plain-text to someone who is capturing the network traffic.

Depending on how "techie" you are, you have various options.

  • If you are not technology savvy, look for a VPN service. There are a lot out there, but product recommendation is out of the scope of stackexchange. Just be aware to not use any free provider.
  • If you are proficient with computers, you can create your own VPN server using a cloud provider (AWS for instance). A common software used in this case is OpenVPN. A good thing of AWS is that there is available a preconfigured virtual machine (AMI). Here you have a tutorial to set everything up.
  • To expand on this, what you want to protect your mobile device from is intercepted/forged web traffic, which can cause the device to do a whole range of bad things. For protection, connect to the Wifi and then log into the VPN service through the phone's native app (or the dedicated app of your chosen service). – Jeff Meden May 12 '16 at 12:38
  • Thanks, this might be worth trying, although I wonder if there would be a speed difference, and if if would work for apps as well. Still, could be worth trying. I'm sure I could set something up and see how it works. – Niahc May 13 '16 at 14:15
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    @Niahc the VPN works system-wide, so all your traffic (apps, browser, whatever) will go through it. For browsing it's not a problem, maybe for gaming you will have some lag. – yzT May 13 '16 at 14:28
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Using a VPN is good if by "hacked", you meant that the web traffic was seen by a third party. (*) However, if you meant by "hacked" that a virus was installed on the cell phone via the hotel wifi, it is different. They cell phone software might have a vulnerability, that could be well-known or not. I suggest updating to the latest version your cell phone software BEFORE you get to the resort. But if you suspect the network has been compromised, I would suggest that you don't connect to it.

(*) A VPN encrypt traffic between your phone and a trusted server. This will stop attacks known as man in the middle attacks. But, today, most websites use HTTPS, and this means your traffic is ALREADY encrypted from your phone to the website. And if the Bon provider can't be trusted, you are giving him a way to see all the traffic that get past your device ! (If using https, he will still see the traffic as encrypted. But, if you connect to unsecured websites, this only move the man in the middle problem to the providers end.)

  • Oh, I forgot to add : have a happy hollydays – WayToDoor May 12 '16 at 20:01
  • Thanks! In theory, would I also be safe if I simply avoided using any websites or sending data that I wouldn't want seen? I won't need to check my bank account or anything while I am away. I am worried that they can see my email passwords or other information even if I don't ever log into those apps/sites – Niahc May 13 '16 at 14:11
  • Not really. As I said, if your cell phone can be hacked,an attacker could potentially access anything on it ! – WayToDoor May 13 '16 at 20:49
  • Okay, that makes sense. Sorry to go on, but what if I removed everything? My thought is that, if I were to delete and back up my usual data on my phone, such as through reformatting, my phone would be nothing more than an anonymous device with nothing important on it. Then when I get back I could clean it again to make sure nothing was installed and restore the backup. It might seem kind of extreme but I feel like it would be the easiest way. Even if I could just disconnect my email and delete all of that data? Is that crazy? – Niahc May 16 '16 at 15:14
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    No, it seems to be a good strategy – WayToDoor May 16 '16 at 18:37
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You could use a VPN service. This will protect all data sent between your phone and the VPN service.

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    You're right, but can you elaborate on your answer? How is this going to solve the OP's problem? – grooveplex May 12 '16 at 11:52

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