We’ve become increasingly reliant on access to the internet wherever and whenever we travel. And if your job has you on the road, you know that finding a wifi network can be like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But as great as it can be to hop online and check your email, bank balance, or the final score of the Yankees/Twins game, we need to be careful to prevent malicious users from gaining access to our private information.
Here are some tips for staying safe while surfing the internet away from home.
1. Keep your software up to date: Nearly all viruses and trojan attacks rely on vulnerabilities in the operating system (OS) or software that you use on your laptop or tablet. Keeping that software up-to-date is the best first step in preventing unwanted intruders from accessing your information.
2. Turn off wifi when you’re not using it: Leaving your network connection turned on is sort of like leaving the door of your house open when you’re outside. You’re not inviting anyone in, but you’re also not keeping them out. When you’re not using your device (or not using the internet on your device), turn off the wifi connection to keep it from automatically connecting to open networks. Sometimes these networks are “evil twins” setup by hackers simply to gather any information transmitted over them.
3. Connect over an HTTPS url (instead of just HTTP urls): If you’re on an open wifi network (a network that doesn’t require a password), you can help ensure your safety by visiting the “secure” version of a website. Many websites (especially online banking sites) force HTTPS, but you can also choose it by adding an “s” to the url after the “http”.
4. Install a personal firewall: A firewall is a piece of software installed on your laptop or tablet that helps prevent an intruder from accessing your personal information.
5. Use a password tool: If you’re on an open wifi network, some hackers on the same network can use “sniffers” to record your keystrokes and capture important usernames and passwords, which grant them access to your sensitive online information. You can avoid connecting to sensitive sites (like online banking, which is generally discouraged while you’re on an open wifi network), or you can use a password tool (like RoboForm or Password Safe) that saves your passwords and automatically fills them in when you visit the site. Not only does it save you the trouble of remembering your passwords, but it prevents a “sniffer” from recording those keystrokes.
6. Use a VPN: So far we’ve focused on ways to safeguard your online experience, but that’s only when you’re using a web browser. If you use an email client (like Outlook or Thunderbird) to access email, or especially if you connect to a server in a central office, using a VPN is a great way to ensure your security. There are a number of VPN options for people on the road, including Barracuda and StrongVPN.
7. Keep your laptop or device secure and safe at all times. Firewalls, virus protection, and smart online habits can go a long way, but they can’t protect against physical theft.