One of the least secure ways to handle data is joining open Wi-Fi hotspots; however, working on the road requires an endless use of whatever connection one can get. So, as I’ve been the ever present Euro-Road-Warrior this past month, I thought I would abide by 5 guidelines for Wi-Fi security. The sources I used to put together my 5 part list are 10 Tips for Road Warriors, Techcrunch, 5 Tips for Protecting Your Computer, Travel and Leisure, and Six essential Apple iPhone security tips, Mac World (because I am much more likely to connect with my iPhone).
Not only should you prioritize secure Wi-Fi, but make sure your devices are secured with strong passwords. Especially if you are traveling, you don’t want a stolen device to be easily accessible and become stolen data.
Firewalls and Disabling Sharing
Set up laptops and other devices before joining a network by disabling sharing and having your firewalls up and running. If a Wi-Fi network requires you to turn off your firewall, carefully examine your level of trust. Most likely, it is not worth it.
Choose Wi-Fi Wisely
So, you are ready to join a network. Anything wide open leaves you wide open, so give preferential treatment to Wi-Fi secured with WPA and known hot spot providers. I’ve found Adael to be reliable and their web security actually works with the iPhone as compared to McDonalds and Starbucks, which have not. To avoid the "Evil Twin" scenario, make sure your devices are not set to join networks automatically.
Browse safely, use RDP over SSL or VPN to your business systems, and as always, avoid sensitive online transactions when possible. Really, travelers should always be using trusted and secure websites if they have data on their devices. I’ve found that RDP over SSL is a much faster way to work over slower connections as well.
If you are done, close up shop. Avoid Evil Twins by removing the Wi-Fi network from your device settings and not allowing it to join automatically. This includes turning Bluetooth off and physically turning off your Wi-Fi if possible.
Side Note: Finding Free Wi-Fi
I cannot vouch for the safety of this iPhone App, but I can vouch for its utility. I Wi-Fi Finder by Jwire on my iPhone to locate free and paid Wi-Fi hotspots before I travel. While in transit, and if I have no 3G support, I’ve downloaded their database so that I can enter a city or zip code to find something close by. It’s often a lifesaver but remember that it does not guarantee the safety, just existence of these hot spots.