Over three million spectators are expected to be in Russia this summer for the World Cup, which gets underway on June 14. Seeing soccer's greatest stars playing under the banner of their home countries could translate into the trip of a lifetime for millions of soccer fans around the globe.
Just take time before and during your trip to ensure that you're fully engaged on the key issue of personal security. Here are a few basic safety tips to help protect yourself and your identity:
- Carry your passports at all times, as Russian law enforcement officials will be conducting regular safety checks.
- All cash transactions must be made using Russia's currency, the ruble. Only switch from dollars to rubles, at legitimate banks and at foreign exchange centers, which are usually available at larger hotels and in other highly visible public settings. (And watch out for rigged calculators that fraudsters use to trick you into thinking you're getting the right conversion estimate on dollar-to-ruble exchanges.)
- Beware of fake contests claiming to represent official FIFA (the global soccer federation that runs the World Cup), or claim to represent major event sponsors like Coca-Cola and Adidas. If you click on a link on one of these phony sites or emails, you'll be asked to enter your credit card to secure your tickets. In doing so, identity thieves running the bogus site could steal your card information and sell it on the dark web, causing you endless headaches and triggering potentially significant financial losses.
"Big sporting events like the World Cup have a high concentration of people, giving hackers and thieves many potential targets," notes Dr. Michael Nowatkowski, associate professor of information security at Augusta University. "Soccer fans traveling to Russia, therefore, need to understand that."
If you're heading to soccer's biggest event, there are additional safety steps to take concerning your personal data. (Read more here about protecting your identity while traveling.)
The VPN Is Your Friend
By and large, the biggest vulnerability in Russia will come from using rogue WiFi hotspots and leaving your Bluetooth open and on, says Andy Abramson, a travel specialist and CEO of Comunicano, a strategic communications, PR and marketing consultancy based in Del Mar, CA.
"Turn Bluetooth off and as far as WiFi goes, ask what the SSID is before you log on, and be careful of attacks," he advises. "Use a virtual private network (VPN) service like Boingo, as part of their global Hotspot roaming service, or get a global Travel SIM from either GigSky or Truphone and use mobile networks that are secure due to the SIM card security. Above all, avoid WiFi entirely."
Other data security experts agree.
"The most important tool to use when traveling in a place like Russia is a VPN," says Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech.com. A VPN encrypts all of a device's internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a remote location.
"By connecting to a VPN on your smartphone or laptop, you get several benefits, including the ability to secure your data when connected to open WiFi hotspots, and the ability to better protect your device's browsing searches and history from any snooping activity by hackers," Bischoff says. "A VPN's encryption prevents anyone who happens to intercept your internet traffic from deciphering its contents. "By routing your connection through the VPN server, snoopers cannot see what websites you visit or apps you use."
Data Security Tips While in Russia
Nowatkowski and other data security specialists offer some practical advice to protect your data at the World Cup this summer.
1. Leave Your Devices at Home
For travelers who really want to protect their information, Nowatkowski advises the unthinkable in the digital age. "Leave all of your electronics at home," he says. "If you need to communicate while in Russia, buy a temporary phone there and throw it away before going back home."
2. Don't Use Public Computers
Travelers should also be cautious when using public computers (like in the hotel lobby), he says. "Travelers should never log into any personal accounts (email, social media and specially bank accounts) when using those public computers," Nowatkowski notes.
3. Be Wary of Public WiFi
Travelers who decide to take their smartphones or tablets with them should avoid sharing private information with friends and family via email or social media or checking bank accounts while on public WiFi. "Cybercriminals can create public WiFi networks that look legitimate in order to collect private information from people who connect to those spoofed networks," Nowatkowski says.
"It's also good practice to turn off WiFi and Bluetooth connections, file sharing, and air drop when not using them. Cyber criminals can use those connections to find their way into people's devices," he adds.
4. Lean on Chromebooks
Before you leave for Russia, if you need to have a computer with you then you may want to dump your traditional laptop and get a Chromebook. "The ease in which you can wipe or erase a Chromebook and how quickly you can access your data on the Google cloud makes it the safest device to use as laptop," says Abramson.
5. Grab a Key
If you have the cash, you may want to invest in a Blackberry Key if you do need a secure phone overseas. "As far as smartphones go, nothing is more secure than the Blackberry Key One for phones under $1,000," says Abramson. "After that, there are some very secure devices, but for most people the costs far outweigh the value."
The Blackberry Key comes complete with ultra-secure DTEK software and a built-in password manager that controls your login access for better security. If something goes awry, like someone trying to access your data, the phone system's security feature will alert you automatically. Blackberry is rolling out the Key Two model this month, with a release date of June 7.
Russia would be a tough place to be if your bank account is drained, or your credit card compromised. Use the expert tips above to avoid that fate, and enjoy the best soccer on the planet instead.
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