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How to Stay Safe Online Your Ultimate Guide for Abroad?

Have you also left for higher studies? You may miss your home too. But thankfully, gone are the days when staying connected with friends and family was a major concern. Now when the internet is easily accessible to everyone, keeping the loved ones updated is no more a hassle. For most of the students, the internet could be a literal life-saver. However, it does come at a price. While the distance between two different nations have been shortened with the internet, it is essential to shed some light over online safety as well;

  1. A higher percentage of fraudulent activities occur while traveling. This is because a traveller is more likely to make online transactions and share sensitive information while booking a ticket or reserving a hotel room.
  2. The increased use of the internet, sharing and storing personal information on online platforms has given the hackers, easier access to your confidential information.
  3. An identity theft can leave adverse effects on your financial security for years.

Staying safe online is as crucial as staying safe physically. Hence, this inclusive guide has all the needful information you require to protect your personal information, stay safe online and avoid any accidental trouble with the established order while you are thousands of miles away from home sweet home.

Studying abroad can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as an exciting opportunity as one gets to learn and gains exposure. Staying away from the loved ones, however, is not easy, but thanks to the internet technology that has made our connections easier. Using the internet often comes with a risk. Not to mention, using unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks could be risking in a country where internet laws may differ from the home country of students. In the worst case scenario, a lack of familiarity with these laws could even land a person in jail or make them the victim of a hack or identity theft.

This is the reason why students and their parents consider the factor of safety while choosing where to study. According to a survey, the factor of “safety” is identified as the 5th most influencing factor for students who desire to go overseas for higher education.

Speaking of safety, the news of a man sentenced to jail for hacking email accounts of students in a search for sexually explicit videos and pictures raised quite a concern for internet privacy.

In addition, a hack of Yahoo in 2014 that was uncovered in 2016 disclosed that nearly 500 million users’ accounts were affected in that hack. Another hack was then revealed in December 2016 that happened in 2013, affecting 1 billion users. Later on, in October 2017, the impact of this hack was updated revealing that 3 billion users’ accounts were affected in it, making this hack the largest data breach in history.

Things to Consider Before Travelling

The purpose of this guide is not to scare the international students but to protect them from any unintended trouble that may come their way. The guide will introduce the risks that exist online and information about how to safeguard personal data and stay safe online during the stay in a new country, around unfamiliar people. The guide also covers tips on what should be done before arriving in a new country, the preventive measures that should be taken during the stay and the safety measures that the students can take away home.

So, let’s put the spotlight on the steps that should be taken to ensure the online safety of students and their meaningful stay abroad.

1. Learn the Foreign Internet Laws

Most students do their research before leaving but one thing that they forget to do is to read about the internet laws of the country they are travelling to.

This is the last thing anyone thinks about doing. Every country has its own laws for all aspects including internet use. Laws regarding advertising, censorship, file sharing and surveillance may vary in every country. So, it is important to research the internet laws of the country that the student plans to reside in.  

To do so, the website of the home country’s government can be visited and the existing laws in the country the student is visiting should be determined. For instance, The UK government website gives a useful foreign travel advice.

How can these laws help a student? Well, by knowing the laws, students will be able to plan their data security measures to take prior to the visit, escaping any spiteful surprises while living abroad.

Wondering why precautions regarding data security matter? The level of internet privacy might not be the same in the home country and country they are travelling to. For instance, the same level in the majority of countries cannot be expected as it can be expected in the U.S. Surveillance agencies may be monitoring the phone calls and online communications, depending on the country.

Keeping this fact in mind, be mindful with information that is shared online. In addition, remember not to send sensitive or private information via unsecured networks such as public Wi-Fi or Hotspots. The privacy, however, may not be guaranteed even on secured servers.  So, steer clear sharing personal details in any case.

2. Backup The Device

All set for the new adventure of life? Don’t forget to back up the devices that will be taken along to curtail the risk of losing any important data permanently. There is always a possibility of losing or damaging the device. So, performing the full backup is vital for securing the data. This can be done by using a secure cloud-based service or external hard drive.

It is portable and it doesn’t depend on the internet while backing up files whereas, a cloud-based service such as Google Drive or DropBox backs up the data on an online server. The latter type is accessible anywhere in the world. All one needs to access it is just an internet connection.

3. Stay Safe on Social Networks

Most students often don’t pay much attention to their privacy settings and their pictures and posts may be public without them knowing about it. So, make sure privacy settings are changed from public to friends only. The settings can even be customised on Facebook. For instance, someone posts a personal picture, they can limit the audience to their close friends and family only. The ugly truth is that some people may access the personal photos for illegal purposes. In short, it is better to share limited information about yourself.

Additionally, if you are meeting someone new whom you met on the internet, tell your friends about it and meet the person in a public place, during the daytime.

4. Stay Safe on Media Sharing Sites

When using the media sharing websites, ensure the following:

  1. Most of them have community guidelines; learn them before using the service
  2. Don’t post rude comments and if someone else does, report them
  3. Follow the rule: If you don’t own a content, don’t post it or at least give credits
  4. If one feels insecure while using a service, they should contact the help and safety area of a service
  5. Block and report the unwanted users
  6. Think before posting a picture or video

5. Stay Safe using Email

To ensure your safety on the email, ensure about following the below tips:

  1. Use secure passwords
  2. Change your password on a frequent basis
  3. Use anti-virus
  4. Don’t open attachments from unknown senders
  5. Never reply to an email from an unknown sender
  6. Never give out sensitive information such as bank details, address etc. over email unless sending it to someone trusted
  7. Block the unwanted senders
  8. Report an offensive email to a member of college or university staff

6. Delete Personal Information

If a student is travelling to a country that has a strong surveillance or censorship, they should delete all sensitive data from their devices. It minimises the chance of their data being stolen or copied as they go through customs.

7. Update The Devices

The devices are prone to malware, viruses and other harmful files regardless of their type. Hence, ascertain to have a good anti-virus software such as Total AV, PC Protect, Norton or McAfee installed on the devices. If it is already installed, ensure to update it to the most recent one.

8. Use Password Management Software

To keep password secure and to keep a track of different passwords, software such as Dashlane or LastPass can be used.

This is particularly important for the university’s portal passwords, as these often expire and resetting the passwords in an unsafe area could be a security risk.

9. Set Up Devices for Maximum Security

Encrypting the files is one of the most important things to do. In case, if the device is stolen or lost, this will keep the private data secure.

Files can easily be encrypted simply by clicking “encrypt content to secure data” in their properties and adding a secure password to access these files.

In addition, limit the data that is saved on the USB or other removable devices as they are easy targets for hackers.

10. Sign up for a VPN

Another important thing to do for keeping the data secured is signing up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN forms a coded connection to the internet via a remote VPN server. This can be anywhere across the globe, replacing the user’s IP address. This not only helps secure data but hides the identity of the user, too. Moreover, it lets the user dodge censorship measures. Not to mention, it is important to ascertain that the VPN that is being used works in the country the student is travelling to. For instance, countries such as Russia, China, and Turkey have strict internet laws and may not allow some or all VPNs.

11. Stay Safe on the Move

Arrived at the destination? Ensure that the following actions are avoided.

  1. Violating the censorship or internet laws of this country or;
  2. Opening up to security vulnerabilities
  3. Ignoring credit or debit card reports

12. Limit the Use of Public Wi-Fi

Open Wi-Fi may be an attraction but it is important to avoid using them as they are open to surveillance.  Furthermore, hackers often set up bogus Wi-Fi hotspots to steal your personal information.

The only secure way to connect to a public Wi-Fi is to use a VPN. Even while using a secured network, it is a good rule to assume that if it’s being shared online, it can be seen.

13. Take Extra Security Measures

Avoid using public USB chargers or other electronics as they may contain viruses and malware files. Furthermore, make sure the features such as Bluetooth, hotspot and automatic file sharing are turned off. Don’t forget to turn off the location tracker as well. The physical location can be easily found if someone hacks the device while the location services are still running in the background.

14. Be Careful of What You Post on Social Media

Understanding the laws of the host country is very crucial as a certain type of posts on social media can put an individual at risk. If a person is in Turkey, for instance, simply posting a tweet or posing anything against the President Tayyip Erdogan could land them in the Turkish Jail or cause other legal ramifications.

Similarly, in China, posting something politically sensitive could cause a person a detainment, fine or in some cases they can even end up in a jail. Russian also has a similar policy about online criticism against the political system or government.

The free speech laws do not exist everywhere in the world, therefore, ensure the understanding of the laws of the host country.

In Turkey, China and Russia, even access to certain websites are blocked. There are 130 popular websites in China that are blocked. These websites include Google, YouTube, and Facebook. The internet is actively monitored by the Chinese government and any breach of conduct is dealt with serious punishments.

15. Click Smart

Now that most of the important smart tech measures are identified, ascertain not to invite danger by clicking randomly on everything that appears on the screen. A lot of today’s online threats are based on social engineering or phishing. This occurs when a person is tricked into disclosing sensitive or personal information for illegal purposes. So, don’t fall for it.

Phony “free” offers, spam emails, online quizzes, and clickbait etc. all use tricks to tempt a user to click on that link or give out personal information. Hence, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

16. Safeguard the Mobile Life

The smartphones can be as prone to online threats as the computers or other devices. In fact, the smartphones encounter new risk such as dangerous links, risky apps sent by a text message. Be vigilant about clicking and never respond to messages from unknown senders and download apps only from official app stores after reviewing the users’ reviews first. Last but not the least; ensure the security software is enabled on the phone, just like laptops and other electronic devices.

17. Learn About the Wi-Fi

When studying overseas for an extended period of time, it is, indeed, difficult to avoid using Wi-Fi. In such a case, it is important to learn about the Wi-Fi in the student house, host house or apartment that the student will be staying in. If a student is staying with some family or in a university dorm, they should determine who is able to monitor their communications as well as what can they view. If the network is managed by an unknown authority, avoid connecting to this network very often as your mobile phone contains 99% of your personal data.

18. Learn the Rules of University’s Network

Universities have their own electronic communications policy. Familiarising yourself with university’s rules regarding the internet use and getting acquainted with the IT department will make it easy to understand the data rights for students. Most of the universities have shared, peer-to-peer networks and some may have developed one for themselves. Chances of loopholes and identity theft are likely to increase in such cases.

19. Learn How to Report Cyber Crime

Learn how to report cybercrime and data theft in the host country. Also, what should be done in the event of cybercrime when it’s likely to be covered by the internet policy of the university. Get familiarised with the specific rules so that the required procedure can be followed if the cybercrime occurs.

Contacting the home country’s embassy and host country’s policy is also an important thing to learn.

20. Stop believing in the following Misconceptions

Studies reveal that 72% of the people believe that the thieves are only after “wealthy people and their identities” which is definitely not true. Thieves target people from all sections on the socioeconomic ladder. The motive behind a criminal activity may not only be for the gratification of quick wealth but identity theft may also occur for harassment, fraudulent acts or telemarketing scams. Around 66% of the population was found to be believing in the misconception that the effects of an online identity theft last some days or months after the crime is committed. The need is to understand that the misfortune and risks after an identity theft last a lifetime.

Things to Consider on Returning Home

Returned home safely? Here are a few things that need to be followed to ensure data safety even at home:

  1. Scan for Malware and Spyware: After returning home, make sure all the devices are scanned for malware and spyware. If a malware is found, remove it and repair the device from the backup that was created before going overseas.
  2. Change Passwords: As an additional safety measure, passwords to the accounts accessed in the country of stay should be changed. This lowers the chance of data theft in the case that the passwords were captured during the stay aboard.
  3. Monitor Wary Activities: Once the student has returned, they should continue to keep a check on the suspicious activities of their accounts or transactions that they did not approve. This kind of wary activity specifies that the personal information of the user was compromised at some point of the stay.
  4. Continue with the Security Measure: Feeling safe while using the home secured connection is not something uncommon. However, one should always keep the aforementioned safety measures in mind even when back home. The sensitive data might be at risk at home as much as it is during the stay aboard.

Final Thoughts

It is evident that the internet and electronic devices are an important part of a student’s life abroad. They not only use them to complete their assignments but they also use them to make travel plans, connect with their family and friends back home, keep finances in order and much more. Hence, they cannot avoid using them.

Taking a few preventive measures, however, to safeguard the data and keep all online threats at bay, is all a student needs. To do so, a student should be well aware and be prepared for the security risks that they may encounter during the stay.

In a nutshell,

If your data is not properly protected, there are several ways in which hackers can easily access the sensitive data or information of a student. Conversely, if done properly taking help from professionals, the sensitive data can be easily kept secured and private from the surveillance of government as well as hackers.


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