Wi-Fi hotspots are clearly convenient. But
the security risks associated with these networks can sometimes outweigh the
convenience they provide. The truth is that most Wi-Fi hotspots, and especially
public hotspots in busy places, can be hotbeds for snoops and hackers. However,
there are ways to protect your computer from these threats and use public Wi-Fi
hotspots without fear. We’ll show you what to look for in a wireless network,
how to connect to it safely, and how to ward off attacks on your computer.
Public Hotspot & Security
It’s important to take into account a
hotspot’s location and level of security before using it, especially if you
plan to check your business email, perform financial transactions online, or
work on important documents in applications that use an Internet connection. If
you intend to send or receive any sensitive data over the Internet, avoid open
Wi-Fi hotspots that don’t require a password or other credentials for access,
but above all else do not trust unsecured hotspots. Your computer or mobile
device will typically inform you if a hotspot is unsecured. The biggest threats
related to public Wi-Fi hotspots are wireless packet sniffing (or capturing
data) and MITM (man-in-the-middle) attacks.
Hotspot & Security
Packet sniffing occurs when someone on a
network is able to view the information being sent to and from your computer
and is able to capture it for use later on. Captured information can include
any usernames and passwords you use. To prevent wireless packet sniffing, data encryption
is a must. Encryption is offered in many security software suites and may be
available as an extension of your company’s email security solution.
Avoid Middleman Attacks
MITM attacks are similar in that they also
gather data from your computer, but they do so in a much more complex way. MITM
scenarios occur when an attacker sets up an access point to appear legitimate,
when in fact the access point is situated between your computer and the network
you are attempting to communicate with. In this way, the attacker is able to
view information going to and from your computer. To avoid connecting to an
MITM network, you should always make sure that the network you access is
password-protected and not available to the general public.
Use & Update Your Security Software
Even email encryption and a solid
understanding of how to avoid potentially dangerous hotspots may not be enough
to protect your Internet transactions. To fully protect your computer, use
antivirus software that blocks malware-hosting websites and other threats. It’s
likely that your company provides security software and it isn’t your
responsibility to keep it up-to-date. But if this isn’t the case, it’s
important to make sure security software is installed and updated regularly.
& Update Your Security Software
The security software you need, especially
if you’re traveling and using a lot of different Wi-Fi hotspots for Web access,
An antivirus component to block
malware-hosting websites and other threats
Encryption capabilities for data that is
transmitted to and from your computer
Frequent automatic updates to en-sure the
software can spot the latest viruses traversing the Internet Both Apple and
Microsoft provide regular operating system updates that patch potential vulnerabilities
and add new features, all of which can put an extra layer of security between
your computer and outside threats.
Connect To A Hotspot
After you locate a secure Wi-Fi hotspot and
have sufficient security measures in place, it’s time to connect to the
Internet. If your computer doesn’t automatically find available wireless
networks and display a dialog box asking if you would like to join any of them,
you can still make a connection with a few simple steps.
In Windows 7:
Click Start (the Windows button in the bottom
left of the screen).
Click Control Panel.
Select Network And Internet (in Category view).
Select Network And Sharing Center.
Select Connect To A Network.
You will see a list of available wireless
networks. Select the net-work you want to connect to and click Connect.
Enter a password if prompted. (You may have to
ask for this at the front desk or equivalent.)
Use Mobile Broadband
If you are ever in doubt about whether a
Wi-Fi hotspot is safe, and you don’t need a high-speed Internet connection,
consider using a mobile broadband, or 3G/4G cellular, connection. If you have a
tablet or a laptop with integrated mobile broadband capabilities, this is
simple enough. But if you don’t, this option isn’t something you can do on the
spot without advance preparation, so obtain the necessary hardware be-fore you
embark on your business trip. You can use a mobile broadband de-vice from a
wireless carrier; this will attach to a USB port on your computer.
Alternatively, you can use tethering as long as you have a smartphone that
sup-ports the practice and a cable to connect your smartphone to your computer.
Wi-Fi hotspot typically refers to any site that offers wireless Internet across
a specified signal range
If you have a high-speed Internet
connection and want a secure way to connect to your company network, using a
VPN (virtual private network) is the best route. This requires having your IT
department establish a VPN tunnel on the company side, so that employees can
remotely log in using associated software on the computer for direct access to
the company’s network.