Expensive coffee: computer security outside the office

December 8, 2010 - Tags: E-business Managing Technology

As an entrepreneur, you may spend many working hours outside the office. When you use your laptop or screen reader at Wi-Fi hotspots (wireless network access points to the Internet in public areas), know what online safety risks you face. It is up to you to prevent breaches of computer security at coffee shops, hotels, airports or business centres. You would never willingly give away intellectual property or client lists, so don't do it unwittingly.

You work hard to build your business and reputation, so why let cybercriminals reap the profits? It is too easy for them to steal private information such as credit card numbers, user names, account numbers, passwords and even hard drives by setting up free Wi-Fi in public places. If they use a name that is similar to that of a trusted network, they can dupe you into handing over your information without knowing it. To avoid any evil twins, or rogue access points, take the precaution of asking a hotspot employee for the network's correct name.

Other security tips to follow when using public hotspots:

  • Prevent your wireless card from connecting automatically to any available network.
  • Connect to legitimate access points only.
  • Use Web-based email that uses secure http (https – ends in s).
  • Encrypt files before sending (most compression software will do this).
  • Pay attention to people nearby.

There are a few other things to keep in mind. Be aware that even instant messaging can be intercepted. The safest way to use public Wi-Fi hotspots is to surf the Internet only. Keep all Wi-Fi threats outside the office by disabling any municipal Wi-Fi access from within the company. Lastly, if you work from home, protect your wireless network from wardrivers or Wi-Fi thieves who cruise by in search of access to open wireless networks.

Cyber Security Information for Canadian Business is a comprehensive guide available through Public Safety.

Familiarize yourself with other types of computer security threats at the workplace by visiting our section on Computer security.

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