Everyone loves a good holiday, but occasionally you read stories about someone who got into a jam. Sometimes it’s simple, like a botched hotel booking, but other times it can be more serious. Things like shady rentals, where the agency accuses the renter of unrealistic damages, or ATM scams where money can be taken are commonplace in many tourist destinations. But they aren’t the only things to worry about.
Did you know your phone can be easily used to spy on you or steal data?
Sure, maybe you heard about government services or other agencies spying on people. Perhaps you understood that downloading certain viruses on an Android or other device can expose your personal information, but those are common concerns. We don’t really worry about them, because we take what we believe to be reasonable precautions. For us, most of the time there is no need to worry. However, when you’re travelling, there’s a whole other level of concern you need to have. You see, useful mobile travel apps are for the most part regulated, or at least legit.
Others travel apps and practices are not so trustworthy, and here’s why.
1) Governments and criminals love to spy. Everyone knows this, but not everyone considers how these groups do it. Let’s take the example of visiting another country. You’re new, and more than a bit lost. Then you download that helpful bus or tube route map the government so helpfully provided you. Maybe instead you got the local version, since the government didn’t have one available. Either way, you just agreed to… well… what did you just agree to? You don’t know, but the people who made that app do. They’ve got your number, and phone data now. So everything you do is subject to tracking – including your cell phone messages and calls. Sure, not everyone is spying on you, but enough places are that you should be careful just what you download. Bring that app home, change some bank details or share a password, and you’ll discover you brought more than souvenirs back.
2) Tour booking information and deal apps. Ever wonder how it is that you got an email from the company you were just surfing rentals from on the island, with deals on exactly the places you were looking at? Well, you probably agreed to let them contact you. It was just buried in the terms and conditions you clicked agree on (because really, who wants to read ten pages of legal jargon?). Now they know what you’re searching for. Ok, so no problem, except the next offer you get isn’t something you searched for using their app. Oops! Looks like you also let them look at your browsing history. Now, one has to ask, is that all you let them do? Maybe it is, but then again, maybe it’s not. How do you know?
3) Fake apps and pirated games. Got a jailbroken iPhone, or one of those cool apps on the Google Play store for your Droid? Did you know that some of them are creations of the folks swimming around in the deep web? That part of the web is where the 90% of the Internet you won’t see on Google resides. It’s also where the best hackers and crackers swim. Download an app that is free, thanks to those dark champions, and you’ve just potentially invited a world of hurt home. You might not even know it, until you start losing money to a scam, or find out those photos of your passport and credit card you emailed the travel agent are being misused. Don’t believe us? Just last year Forbes reported that thousands of phones in the US were stolen using existing customer data to pose as new customers. Care to guess one of the ways they got customer data? Now try and explain that to the credit reporting agencies, and see how much more it costs you than the £2 or £3 your pirated app would have cost.
3) Free Wi-Fi connections – oh yeah. Did you know that there are free and easily accessible programs that will let you intercept all network traffic over any Wi-Fi connection – if you install them on the computer running the connection? It’s pretty easy to do, and any time you’re using that great free Wi-Fi your tour destination or corner coffee shop so happily provides, you’re fair game. It might not even be the company, but rather an employee, or someone else in the coffee shop that remotely accessed an insecure system and installed the app. Now everything you do over their network is fair game. You could download Norton DNS to check and see if the network is phishing you – but who does that on holiday? No one, and that’s why it’s a problem. It’s also a problem at home here in the UK, but much less so than in a tourist destination, where anything goes. All it takes is messaging someone that you’re away, or forgot something in your hotel room, and you’re fair game. So, be careful, and don’t do things with your phone on the Internet that you wouldn’t be comfortable doing with your wallet on the table.
Holidays are great fun, but you should take the same precautions with your phone that you would with your medical health or your wallet both before leaving, and while you’re away. This includes how you use your phone, and especially the apps you download. Don’t trust third party apps, and be careful what networks you use. The damages can be long lasting, and follow you home. Worse, you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law, in a part of the world where you won’t have access to the same rights you would in the UK.