Things to Consider When Using Wi-Fi
As a frequent business traveler and coffee shop web surfer, I am becoming more and more cognizant of what I am connecting to when it comes to Wi-Fi networks. Not only am I aware of what types of networks I am connecting to, but also where I am connecting (e.g. coffee shops, hotels, airports, etc.). Granted, my awareness is heightened due in part to the fact that I work in the Information Security field with some exceptionally brilliant minds who know the ins and outs of public and private Wi-Fi networks.
Recently, an article was published by Information Week that delved into some strategies for blocking hotel Wi-Fi malware. The post was inspired by a recent FBI advisory that made a point to mention that malware authors are targeting travelers abroad via pop-up in-browser windows.
At first glance you may say to yourself that you rarely travel abroad, therefore, you have nothing to worry about. Even if that is the case, you should always keep your guard up. Although the recent advisory was pointed at travelers abroad, the security essentials that the article points to can, and should, be applied to anyone.
The article gives nine quick tips on how to mitigate potential threats while connecting to Wi-Fi. While I will not re-list them all, there were a few that I felt were worth highlighting and diving into a bit more.
Update Before Leaving - This is an incredibly important step. If you are going to be away from home or the office for an extended period, take the time to update your machine on a trusted personal or work connection. You can never truly know what is lurking on or around a public network. It is certainly better to be safe than sorry.
These days, your update processes may likely be enabled automatically. However, it is worth taking a dive through your control panel or systems settings to make sure that automatic updates are enabled.
Typically, you will/should be alerted to the need to update via either a task bar “bubble” or by a shield icon when clicking through to shut down the computer. If either is displayed on your system prior to travelling, take the few minutes and update.
Block Pop-Ups - No one likes pop-ups. This should be done the moment you first fire up your favorite Internet browser and left on so that you never forget. Clicking on pop-ups on a work network will normally get you a wrist slap from your favorite network administrator, but doing so out “in the wild” could very well open the door to all sorts of malicious activity.
Pop-ups are the bane of an end-user’s and a systems administrator’s existence. Odds are that at some point you have had your web surfing interrupted by an alert claiming that “YOU HAVE JUST WON A NEW IPAD!” Just clicking the “X” in the top-right corner to close the pop-up is only a temporary fix. Take the time to go through the browser’s setting. In most cases it is worth downloading a browser add-in or plug-in to automatically block pop-ups for you.
Handle Free Wi-Fi With Caution - You may make some assumptions on which wireless networks can be trusted. They normally bear the name of the establishment you are currently sitting in. Sometimes, however, you find yourself without “free” Wi-Fi and instead resort to connecting to networks with names like “SeriouslyFr33NoW0rries!” Whoops. Take care when connecting to networks that are not endorsed or provided by the establishment you are at. Trust your instincts when it comes to any “free” Wi-Fi.
Take this advice and apply it everywhere and to any device that has Wi-Fi enabled. Malicious software is constantly being adapted by its creators to work with new platforms. Computers are no longer the only susceptible devices; smartphones and tablets are being targeted as well.
If you are at home, stay on your own wireless network. Hopping on unknown/untrusted networks can possibly lead to disastrous outcomes. In most cases, it may not be the worst thing in the world to be disconnected from Wi-Fi. More likely than not, you will have other means of connections via smartphones’ 3G/4G capabilities. So those ever-important emails will still find their way to your address. Good security can become great security as long as it is on the mind at all times and consistently practiced.
So am I telling you that you should never fire up your laptop, tablet or phone the next time you stop in for your morning java or are waiting for your plane? Of course I’m not. However, it is worth taking the time to find out where you are connecting, and to what you are connecting.
As you’re browsing the web, just remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is (most people don’t win free iPads by being the 1,000th visitor to a blog site). As long as you proceed with caution and pay attention to the helpful tips available, you should be able to travel and connect with more confidence.