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Traveling with Wi-Fi– How to Keep Your Private Information Safe

These days most of us use our WI-FI devices while traveling.  We use them in hotels, airports, RV parks, and coffee shops. While surfing the web in public has become part of our daily lives, we must always be aware that public networks pose serious security risks.  We need to be aware of the dangers and know how to protect against them.

The Risks

WI-FI uses radio waves that are broadcast through the air.  That means a person with the right software can pick up those radio waves.  There are easy to use hacking programs out there, like Firesheep, that allow someone sitting in a coffee shop to snoop on nearby internet users and hijack their information.  Another more sophisticated hacking program is Wireshark.  It allows hackers to capture passwords and account information.
    Hackers can also use unsecured networks to distribute malware and computer viruses.  Some will set up bogus links.  You may think you are connecting to your hotel’s network when, in fact, you have been directed to a bogus site designed to steal your private information.  These sites will be deliberately similar to the hotel or coffee shop site to fool the unwary.  Always verify the IP address and password of the hotel or other network you are using.  The best way to do that is to get the IP address and password from hotel or coffee shop personnel and get it in writing.  Then, you can be sure you are typing in the correct information.


How to Keep Yourself Secure
    There are steps we can all take to minimize our risks when using public networks.
    1. Be aware that public networks are inherently unsafe.  Avoid internet shopping or checking your bank accounts while on public networks if at all possible.
    2. The biggest danger is on public networks that do not use a password.  But there is still significant risk when a password is shared by many people in a RV Park or hotel.
    3. If you have your laptop or tablet open in a coffee shop, airport, library or other public location, be aware of your surroundings.  Is anyone watching you?  Try to position your device in such a way that no one else can see the screen.
    4. Internet security is accomplished by way of encryption.  The information is translated into a type of code that makes it difficult for hackers to read and interpret.  Only access sites that have the extension “https.”  The HTTPS browser extension will direct you to encrypted pages when available.  This isn’t a solution to the problem, but it will make hacking a bit less likely.
    5. Make certain your device is protected with a good virus protection program to ward off malware and virus attacks.
    6. One of the ways to identify a rogue site is to pay attention to your browser.  If your web browser tells you that a site’s security certificate is invalid, log off and shut down your computer.  A security certificate is a type of positive identification for a website that is part of the https:// protocol.  Think of it as a drivers’ license for websites.  It confirms the owner of the site and tells you that the site is what it purports to be.  The certificate is used to encrypt the data that users receive from the site. Another red flag you may encounter is when a site asks you to re-enter your user name and password after you have already entered the information. That may be a sign that you have been moved away from the site you intended to visit and are now on a scam site.
    7. Consider using your cell phone rather than your tablet or laptop in a public place.  If you must access your bank account or use a site that contains private information, it may be advisable to use the internet connection on your cell phone.  Your cell phone network offers better protection than using a public network. 
    8. If you travel frequently or have occasion to use public networks on a regular basis, the best solution is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).  VPN is a type of technology that you can purchase, usually for a monthly or annual fee.  It creates an encrypted connection over a less secure network. 


Modern life offers many great conveniences that we all enjoy.  But with convenience comes risk.  None of us can afford to be blind to those risks.  We must be watchful and alert, and we must know how to take the appropriate steps to protect the privacy of our personal information.

 


Works Cited

Higgs, Larry. “Free Wi-Fi? Beware of security risks.” USA TODAY, 1 July 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/07/01/free-wi-fi-risks/2480167/. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016.

Hoffman, Chris. “Why Using a Public Wi-Fi Network Can Be Dangerous, Even When Accessing Encrypted Websites.” How-To Geek, 2 Jan. 2014, http://www.howtogeek.com/178696/why-using-a-public-wi-fi-network-can-be-dangerous-even-when-accessing-encrypted-websites/. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016.

“How to Avoid Public WiFi Security Risks.” Kaspersky Lab, http://usa.kaspersky.com/internet-security-center/internet-safety/public-wifi-risks#.V7IFIJgrI2w. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016

“Public Wif-Fi Security.” Kaspersky Lab, https://usa.kaspersky.com/internet-security-center/internet-safety/public-wifi#.V7IFTpgrI2w. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016

“The Hidden Dangers of Public Wi-Fi.” Norton, http://us.norton.com/dangers-of-public-wifi/promo. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016.

“virtual private network (VPN).” TechTarget, July 2016, http://searchenterprisewan.techtarget.com/definition/virtual-private-network. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016.

 

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