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6 Tips for using free Wi-Fi Safely

Six tips for things to watch out for when using free WiFi when out on the road.

By: Staff

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It's easy to find free Wi-Fi  in most cities  in Canada today. Pretty much any coffee chain (including Tims), many restaurants, hotels, airports, trains and even some buses now make it easy to get online . Of course, baddies know this too so there's a few things to keep in mind before jumping online.

1. Don’t do sensitive work on an open network
Public Wi-Fi networks are made for convenience first, security second.  This is the reason why businesses will sometimes have guest networks separate from the Wi-Fi network for staff; the guest network is there to make it convenient for visitors to get online, while the private networks can employ more security that might require more set-up time for employee's computers.

With that in mind, the first thing is to limit sensitive work, this of course includes anything involving money (buying online, on-line banking) but also things like checking your email.

If you need to check your bank account, download a VPN software like Hotspot Shield and HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox or Chrome. This plug-in is designed to encrypt your browsing from prying eyes. Fortunately, since the plug-in was first released, sites such as Gmail, Twitter and Facebook now use HTTPS by default, making them a bit safer to  use.

One thing they can't protect you from though is key-loggers sometimes found on public computers, such as found in internet cafes.  If you are concerned about this, consider changing your email password before you leave and after you return from a trip, hopefully that will keep villains out of your email if you happen to run into a hacked public computer. Another option is to set-up a vacation email that is used with the understanding that it should not be used to send anything sensitive (those will continue to your regular "real" email) - bore the baddies with endless trivia about the Mayans and giant hotdogs (any maybe some topless shots if you're a guy)

2. Beware of fake networks
Baddies have got pretty good at crafting authentic-looking emails from banks and insurance companies. Is it too much of a leap to think they could set-up a legit-looking welcome screen for a popular coffee shop or hotel chain and run it out of a laptop in a van in the parking lot and then harvest any passwords/credit card numbers than pass though it? Check with the hotel or coffee shop what the real network name is before jumping on just any open network that looks right.

3. Use your own network
If you’re really worried about doggy networks, most carriers offer an Internet Stick that lets you use their network the same way you do with a phone. In fact, most Android phones can be set-up to “tether” (http://mashable.com/2012/08/16/free-tethering-apps/) so your laptop can use your phone carrier's network instead.

4. Keep your security software up to date.
It might set you back $40-70 a year, but it's worth the peace of mind. Packages  like Norton Internet Security, if kept up to date, can head off a lot of problems; and Yes, Macs are just as much a target these days. 

5. Spies are everywhere
Be aware of your surroundings, especially on close quarters like airplanes and transit. It’s easy for snoops to  glance over to what you're surfing. especially on tight quarters like airplanes. If you do a lot of traveling, consider something like 3M's privacy filters.

6. Bluetooth? Not using it, turn it off
Not using Bluetooth headset? Turn it off on your mobile phone or make sure it’s set to “not discoverable.” As a bonus, your battery will last a bit longer.

Date published: 09-Nov-2012

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