If you can’t bear to be parted from your email inbox when you venture abroad, it’s important to ensure that the wireless connection you’re using to get online is secure.

However much we try and get away from it all when we head off on holiday, few of us can last the duration without touching base with relatives or colleagues. The occasional text message shouldn't rack up too much of a bill but, given the prevalence of cheap internet access at bars and cafés, it's tempting to log on and get an update on what’s happening in the wider world.

Unfortunately, convenient connectivity can extract a hefty price. Very few internet cafés and Wi-Fi hotspots have more than rudimentary security, making them prime targets for wireless snoops. But after a great day at the beach or visiting an iconic destination, many of us are far too relaxed to worry whether someone has an ulterior motive for hanging round a web café for hours at a stretch.

It may be expensive to call your bank from abroad to check your balance before making an extravagant souvenir purchase, but using a free Wi-Fi connection to check your balance online could be pricier still. Wi-Fi sniffing and keylogging are rife in some parts of the world, so you really shouldn’t be entering password-protected sites or conducting confidential transactions of any sort.

Worryingly, even the commercial Wi-Fi operators offer few guarantees that your data is safe if you log in with them. You may have signed up and got a password and username in return, but not all hotspot services are as secure as they might be. Business users should be cautious about using such services in an open setting – especially if your rivals are likely to be logging in at the same hotspot.

There's a lot to be said for disposable email addresses that you use for a single purpose, whether that's as the spam-catcher for the mandatory registration email for a competition you want to enter, or so you can safely conduct conversations from a potentially insecure location without compromising your inbox and contacts.

Here, we look at how to secure your Gmail account for use abroad.

Use a Gmail account to access your email abroad

Step 1. Use a webmail system with HTTPS for the whole session. Most use HTTPS when asking you to log in, but they usually switch back to HTTP after authentication. The two exceptions are the web version of Microsoft Outlook and Gmail. Unless you use one of these, your mail won’t be secure.

Secure your Gmail account step 1

Step 2. If your email isn't encrypted, everyone on the same Wi-Fi network can read the content of your messages. In certain cases, a person can steal your session cookie and log into your webmail without your password. If you check your work messages using local software, you may or may not be using encryption.

Secure your Gmail account step 2

Also see:
Security Advisor
Broadband Advisor