We’ve all read about the dangers of using public wi-fi hotspots. In short, wi-fi hotspots usually offer no security at all. Wi-fi providers become so intent on offering customers the ability to connect, security is an afterthought. With hotspots becoming more common, and users hopping on with smartphones and tablets in addition to laptops, those consumers need to know the dangers of having electronic devices so open to infiltration.
“Hot spots are great for the coffee shops, but people conducting business have to understand it’s their responsibility to protect themselves,” Marc Noble, director of consumer affairs for (ISC)2, told ComputerWorld. “They might as well be putting it on a billboard and run down the street.”
The internet is littered with articles on how to protect yourself while using a wi-fi hotspot, but several technology tools can be invaluable if you’re regularly conducting business in public venues. Here are a few tips that can help protect your data from the guy sitting in the parking lot, hacking into machines:
- Laptop VPN–A VPN provides a tunnel to route you into data remotely. Hotspot Shield offers a free VPN service, along with malware protection, and is highly reviewed on CNET. The free version will include an annoying toolbar, but that’s typical with freeware.
- Smartphone VPN–Many cell phones include secure VPN access as part of their operating systems. Look in your phone’s network settings to see if you have the ability to secure your wi-fi. Tablets will operate on the same principal. If you can’t find pre-loaded VPN software, there are apps to help.
- VPN Apps–An app from Boingo Wireless not only automatically connects you to the nearest wi-fi hotspot upon command, it connects to a nearby data center’s VPN service to lock down your wi-fi connection against intruders. The service is free to Boingo customers.
“We connect to hot spots without thinking but are we secure?” SmallBizTechnology’s Ramon Ray asks, pointing out that smartphones and tablets are just as easily compromised as laptops. If compromised, Ray points out, hackers can not only access the user’s data but can also affect any network connections tied into the phone.
Experts also recommend turning off wi-fi on devices when not on a trusted network. With many carriers now limiting data, smartphone users are now setting up wi-fi to activate automatically whenever a hotspot is available. This leaves smartphone owners vulnerable when they don’t even realize it.
Another suggestion by experts is to choose wi-fi hotspots that require passwords. While this is no guarantee, it will reduce the chance of someone accessing your data from a nearby location. Paid wi-fi hotspots also provide an additional security feature, as it limits the number of people who are using it.
For additional security, consider only checking bank accounts and important private data while on a trusted wi-fi. This still isn’t a guarantee, since data can be compromised even when you aren’t using it. Consider a company-wide VPN solution that will secure all of your devices. The small expense will provide peace of mind and keep your customers’ information safe from prying eyes.