How To Stay Safe and Secure on a Public Network

We have quite a few articles up on our blog that talk about the mobile office, and working from anywhere at any time. With the Cloud becoming such an integrated part of the business world, having the ability to work anywhere, anytime, can make a huge difference in the success of your business. But there is a very important question you should always be asking yourself- how safe and secure am I being?

Bottom line, working from anywhere requires one critical piece of the puzzle- access to the internet. Without being able to get online, it is much more difficult to be able to have the flexibility of a mobile office. So the issue then becomes, if you spend a good amount of time working from a coffee shop, bookstore, airport, or hotel, how can you make sure that all of your important work information will remain secure? After all, they will really let just about anyone access a public and free network these days. Even though most wi-fi routers have a firewall, that doesn’t protect you from people logged in to the same network (i.e. everyone else in the coffee shop).

The safest place to work will always be from your office or your home (assuming you have a secure home connection). But these days you can’t discount the amount of time you will spend working in a public setting, using a public network connection. So here are some tips to help you determine whether a network is secure, and how to stay safe on a public network.

1. Security-enabled networks

If the option is available, always choose the security-enabled networks to connect to. These are networks that will either require some type of key or password, or have a security certificate associated with them. These networks encrypt information for you, which means your computer and all the data is more protected. However, when working on a public wi-fi, such as in a coffee shop or airport, you will rarely, if ever, find a security-enabled network.

2. Privacy Statements

Most of the time, when you connect to a public network, the first thing that will pop up will be a privacy statement that you have to agree to before you can connect. Now these privacy agreements always seem really long with very tiny print, but the best thing to do is to take a few minutes and read through this statment. It will detail out how secure this network really is, and what type of information you don’t want to be accessing on this network, because it could be vulnerable to attacks.

3. Know your Information

If you connect to a public network that is not secure, you need to be very careful about the information you work with while connected. Someone else connected to that network, with the right tools and minimal training, can see everything you do on your computer. This includes any documents, web pages, even usernames and passwords.

4. Use SSL

When you visit a website, the URL will usually start with “http://”. But occasionally, you might notice that a web page URL begins with “https://”. When it has the “s” at the end, this means it is an SSL connection.

SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer”, and it is a protocol that establishes a secure connection for you. This means it will encrypte the information and data being passed back and forth.

You can enable SSL when using certain applications that access the internet, such as your email, and you can use the “https:” when visiting web pages. This means any information there is encrypted. Although certain websites will automatically have the “https:” connection, you do have the ability to manually switch your connection to an SSL one. For example, if you use Gmail, you can manually switch the “http:” at the beginning of the URL to “https:”. You will still be able to use your Gmail, but information is now encrypted and therefore more secure.

It is a good idea, whenever you are visiting a web page where you will have to enter sensitive information (such as passwords, credit card information, client data, etc.) to always use the secure SSL connection. And, if you notice that while you are working the URL switches back to “http:”, immediately log out of that web page and turn off your network connection.

5. VPN

Using a VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is absolutely the most secure way to work on a public network. When you use a VPN connection, all of your activity is routed through a private, secure network. This means that even though you are technically connected to a public wi-fi network, you will have the security and protection of a private network. So, if you are going to be traveling alot, or you are a teleworker, it is a good idea to ask your company to set you up with a VPN connection. You will be able to protect both yourself and your company’s data.

The mobile office is quickly becoming more and more popular in today’s working world. It is important to know how to stay safe and secure in any and all situations. Simply trusting other people and other networks is not enough. You have to learn how to be safe, secure, and smart when it comes to using today’s technology.

Any questions about using public or private networks? Let us know in the comments!

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