As I find myself waiting for a plane at the Indianapolis International Airport I thought I’d take this time to get some work done. I open my phone and start sniffing out wifi connection’s that might be able to use. Sure enough, there’s a great signal and it’s completely open, FREE WIFI! With five hours to kill I’m thinking I can at least empty my inbox (I’ve been teaching class all week, so it’s a little out of control right now). I make the connection and there’s not even any kind of agreement to click through…I’m just on the internet, easy as you please. Now, in order to get any work done, I’ll need to connect to my corporate VPN and that’s more than just a username/password combo, we’ve got additional two-factor authentication in place as well, so I know I’m getting a secure connection and my password is going to be safely encrypted. Not everyone has this option so readily available. Not everyone see’s free wifi and thinks hidden perils. If you partook of Virgin’s wifi only smart phone, you’re like very adept at finding free public wifi, but how secure are your connections? As I look around the airport there’s a lot of kids…nearly everyone one has their face in a device of some kind. How many of them think twice about grabbing some free wifi? Adults too for that matter. Unless you’re in the tech industry and travel for work…you may be largely unaware of the perils of free wifi (and not just in airports my friends). That inspired me to write this article. I completed a quick search for articles on the subject and it’s been over a year (at least with my search terms) so it felt even more appropriate.
First, get a VPN. There are free options out there that will give the security you need. If you travel often, you might enjoy some of the features of paying for the service as well. There are several things to look for in a VPN. It really depends on what you’re using it for. Of course, there’s security, that’s a given. But you may also some flexibility in exit services…that’ll help you get around pesky black out area’s on your local ISP (cord cutters know what I’m talking about). Along with the ability to anonymize you’re surfing such that not even Tim Cook can figure out what you’re doing. Check out this article from Life Hacker on five popular options of personal VPN’s
Stick With HTTPS And SSL
This goes hand-in-hand with using a personal VPN…some folks may say this is your first line of defense. If you’re using a website with a URL that begins with HTTP then a lot (if not all) of the information you’re sharing with that site is open for other’s to intercept, in an encrypted format… That’s a fancy way of saying, someone with the right software can read your information like you were emailing it to them. Now, some of these sites may not contain anything you care about sharing with the world or otherwise unscrupulous individuals, just be aware that if you’re at a site like this, you definitely want to refrain from entering any personal information or passwords.
Turn Off Sharing, Turn On Your Firewall
Often when making a new connection with Windows, you’re asked if you’re on a Home or Work network and whether or not you want to enable sharing. It’s a good idea to turn this off or never allow it in the first place, when you make your initial connection with any form of public WiFi. Depending on your operating system (and the version of your operating system) this is going to quite different. I quick search with Google or the internal help files should get you all the information you need to disable sharing. As for your firewall, many are already turned on for you. This one’s a bit easier to get at regardless of your OS, you’re looking for “Security”. In windows it’s Control Panel > System and Security and iOS is System Preferences > Security & Privacy. This is in no way a guarantee of safety or security but it’s a good additional step.
Free WiFi is a good thing, you should feel free to enjoy it. Just use some common sense and some of these suggestion and I’m sure you’ll be enjoying your internet connection on public wifi in an airport or coffee shop…wherever your travels may take you. now I’ve got to get to some of that work I was talking about…still got another three hours before I’m boarding my flight.