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Protecting Your Information While Working Remotely

Technology Tip
Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Protecting Your Information While Working Remotely

Protecting Your Information While Working Remotely

The widespread availability of wi-fi hotspots and public computers can increase the productivity of small business team members working on the go, but can also expose company data to hackers and fraud.

Free wi-fi and public computers often lack security protections, making it important for travelers to take precautions and behave carefully as they go online via public connections or devices.

While the risk is hard to quantify, it’s technically not difficult for hackers to set up fake hotspots designed to capture the information wi-fi users are uploading and downloading. This data stream can include passwords, financial or company data, and similar information that increases your risk of identity theft or other forms of online fraud.

Protecting Your Data

For starters, it’s important to recognize what a public wi-fi connection is appropriate for. With precautions, you can check email or social networking sites with relative safety, but a free public hotspot isn’t a good place to access your online banking account.

Online banking is better conducted through your bank’s mobile app or via a mobile hotspot connected with a wireless network carrier. Both approaches use the digital encryption built into cellular networks instead of the public Internet.

Public wi-fi or computers are reasonably safe for routine, non-financial surfing if you follow a few precautions:

  • Be careful about the network you’re connecting to. Most reputable businesses offering wi-fi will have a sign displaying their network name, and some may require a password to connect. Avoid connecting to a network with a vague name like “Free Wi-Fi” or “Free Internet” unless you can verify it with the business offering the access.
  • Use a VPN. Virtual Private Network software encrypts data as it travels between your device and your data’s destination, making your traffic anonymous and therefore far less vulnerable to interception by hackers. There are a number of VPN apps and services designed to make remote computing safer.
  • Check your network settings. Turn off the ability to share files, screens, printers or other devices. These features can be handy in the workplace or at home, when you can trust your fellow users, but create a huge security risk over public networks.
  • Turn on your firewall. The Windows and OSX both offer built-in firewall features that examine incoming and outgoing network traffic and try to block suspicious traffic or known threats. Be sure this feature’s on if you’re using wi-fi.
  • Update your software. Keep your operating system and anti-virus protection current to reduce the risks from known vulnerabilities.

Using Public Computers Safely

Public computers in locations such as hotel lobbies or business centers are less common than wi-fi hotspots, but still offer a convenient way to get online if you have to.

If you’re going to use a public computer, following these basic precautions can help reduce the potential security challenges:

  • Use private browsing. Every browser has a privacy mode that doesn’t store the sites you visit, passwords you enter or similar information. This is a good way to reduce the risk of the next user harvesting your information.
  • Delete your history. This will clear out any temporary files that are designed to make web browsing faster, but can increase the risk of your information being exposed to another user.

By paying attention to how you compute on the run, you can do so without exposing your data to unnecessary risk.

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