How many international travelers are practicing unsafe internet behaviors?

A male traveler is sitting on the ground of an airport while fixing items from his travel bags.
Rachaphak // Shutterstock

It's official: international travel is back. After a more than 85% drop in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2024 marks the first time foreign travel is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels.

But while travelers enjoy exploring faraway places, the harsh reality is that criminals, especially cybercriminals, are also preparing for their arrival.

Cybercrime is expected to cost victims a whopping $9.5 trillion globally in 2024, and vulnerable travelers using their tech in other countries are some of the biggest potential victims for identity theft scams.

To illustrate the importance of digital security while traveling, All About Cookies surveyed 1,000 U.S. travelers in Fall 2023 about their safety habits while going abroad. Only people that indicated they have traveled internationally in the last 10 years were allowed to respond. The survey data collected shows how many have had their devices or data stolen or compromised overseas, the most common ways people keep their information secure, and more.

Key findings

  • 90% of international travelers admit to risky tech practices while abroad.

  • More than one third (35%) of international travelers have had a tech device stolen while abroad.

  • Fewer than 1 in 3 travelers (31%) use a virtual private network (VPN) when traveling internationally.

  • Nearly half (45%) of travelers admit they use unprotected public Wi-Fi networks abroad.

Survey graph results of the different tech risks while traveling.
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90% of Americans risk identity theft while traveling abroad

While there are plenty of tips for keeping data and devices safe while traveling, there are even more ways to put those things at risk. Some of these behaviors seem innocent enough in the moment, but can cause big issues for travelers who aren't careful. When asked about some of these risky practices, 90% admitted to risky online behavior while traveling.

Public charging stations can feel like a blessing for anyone with a rapidly draining cell phone battery, but the potential for these kinds of stations to spread malicious software to connected devices is great enough that the FBI issued a public warning about them in 2023. Despite the dangers public charging stations pose, nearly two-thirds of travelers (63%) indicate that they have used one while traveling abroad.

Smart devices such as TVs and speakers in hotel rooms pose a similar threat, as anyone who has had access to the room in the past could have hacked these devices for nefarious purposes. Despite that, nearly half of travelers (46%) have connected their personal devices to smart devices located in their hotel rooms.

One of the most dangerous things anyone can do with their devices (both at home and while traveling) is connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi network. These kinds of networks are highly susceptible to security vulnerabilities, which can impact devices that do not have sufficient antivirus protection. Alarmingly, 42% of travelers say they have connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi network while traveling internationally.

So are all Wi-Fi networks or charging stations unsafe for travelers? Of course not, but it's hard to differentiate the safe from the unsafe, especially when you're in an unfamiliar place (or an unfamiliar language is spoken). While some of these ubiquitous public access points are necessary from time to time, travelers  can protect themselves from virus or malware risks by investing in quality antivirus software on their devices in case they encounter anything malicious. This includes using antivirus software with VPN's you may be using in foreign countries.

Survey graph results about the most common valuables lost and stolen abroad.
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Which personal items are lost or stolen the most while traveling?

Having an important item lost or stolen while traveling is both annoying and stressful to deal with while in another country. It can also have long-term consequences if the lost item in question allows a criminal access to their personal data and information.

A little less than half of international travelers, 46%, have lost or had stolen an item such as a smart device, cash, personal documents, or personal items. The most common affected item is cash — 22% of people say they've misplaced cash or had it stolen. Nearly the same percentage of people have had their cell phone lost or stolen abroad.

Focusing on just tech devices, 35% of international travelers report a loss of a cell phone, laptop, or other device in the past. Not only are these devices expensive to replace, they also contain valuable personal data that could be a gold mine for identity thieves. In the event a device turns up in the wrong hands, identity theft protection services can minimize potential damage to your identity. These services monitor the dark web for your information and will alert you if any of your data or passwords are leaked.

Survey graph results about safe tech practices while traveling.
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How many people practice safe digital behaviors abroad?

When traveling abroad, a little bit of effort can go a long way toward keeping your devices and data safe. Travel and cybersecurity experts recommend people follow a few simple steps and best practices while in another country. But how many people actually follow that advice?

There are three tips that more than half of international travelers follow most or every time they go abroad. Around half (52%) of people alert their financial institutions of travel plans and turn on "Find my device" features for smart devices they travel with, and 51% make sure that their devices are fully updated before taking off.

However, some expert advice is largely ignored. For example, less than one-third of international travelers use a VPN when they access the internet while traveling, and just 29% take the time to research internet privacy laws in the country they will be traveling to.

But what do experts say is different about traveling abroad? John Hering, Senior Government Affairs Manager, Cybersecurity Policy and Protection at Microsoft, offered his thoughts on what travelers need to know about before leaving the house.

According to Hering, the real risk is in the information you don't have about security in a new country.

"Anytime you are traveling somewhere new, you should accept that you have less information about the relative security of the ICT environment and practice good cyber hygiene," he said. "This means ensuring software is up to date with any necessary patches before traveling, enabling multifactor authentication on all your accounts, and utilizing things like anti-malware and VPN services. Travelers should also be deliberate about which connected devices they choose to take with them on a trip to limit risk — this includes things like laptops and phones, but also other network-connected consumer products like tablets, smart watches, and even handheld gaming systems."

More tips for international travelers

International travel presents unique risks, but there are plenty of ways to stay safe abroad. Some more tips for doing just that include:

  • Decide which VPN is right for you. Subscribe to one of the best VPNs for travel as a way to protect your data while on public Wi-Fi networks without compromising your connection speeds.

  • Change your passwords when you're back. Identity thieves don't always strike immediately. Changing your passwords once you're at home can prevent any compromised accounts and make any password theft moot. Use a secure password manager to make it an easy transition and keep all your accounts safe.

  • Understand the risks of juice jacking. Read up on the ways you can prevent yourself from juice jacking and learn what to do if you suspect that you're a victim.

This story was produced by All About Cookies and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

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