7 Tips For Working Securely From Wireless Hotspots

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Wireless hotspots are changing the way people work.

These wireless networks provide high speed Internet access in public locations—as well as at home—and require nothing more than a notebook PC with a wireless card.

From coffee shops to restaurants, airports to hotel lobbies, hotspots are ubiquitous. They range from paid services, such as T-Mobile or Boingo, to free connections at your local restaurant or library.

But they all have one thing in common: These are all open networks that are vulnerable to security breaches. And that means it’s up to you to protect the data on your PC. Here are a few tips to make working in public locations more secure.

Encrypt your files.
You can protect your files by encrypting them, which requires a password to open or modify them. Because you must perform this procedure on one file at a time, consider password-protecting only the files that you plan to use while working in a public place.

Choose more secure connections.
It’s not always possible to choose your connection type—but when you can, opt for wireless networks that require a network security key. The information sent over these networks is encrypted, which can help protect your computer from unauthorized access.

The security features of different networks appear along with the network name as your PC discovers them.

Make sure your firewall is activated.
A firewall helps protect your mobile PC by preventing unauthorized users from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or a network. It acts as a barrier that checks all incoming information, and then either blocks the information or allows it to come through. All Windows operating systems come with a firewall.

Monitor your access points.
Chances are, there are multiple wireless networks anywhere you’re trying to connect. These connections are all access points, because they link into the wired system that gives you Internet access. So how do you make sure you’re connecting to the right one? Simple—by configuring your PC to let you approve access points before you connect.

Disable file and printer sharing.
File and printer sharing is a feature that enables other computers on a network to access resources on your computer. When using your mobile PC in a hotspot, it’s best to disable file and printer sharing because when enabled, it leaves your computer vulnerable to hackers. Remember, though, to turn this feature back on when you return to the office.

Make your folders private.
When the folders on your mobile PC are private, it’s more difficult for hackers to access your files.

Consider completely removing sensitive data from your PC.
If you’re working with extremely sensitive data, it might be worth taking it off your notebook PC altogether. Instead, keep it behind the corporate firewall and use your company’s VPN to access it when necessary. This way, you have multiple safeguards in place.

A few simple precautions can help make working in public places more secure. And by selecting the best connections and adjusting settings, you can enjoy productive and safe work sessions no matter where you are.