Monday, December 31, 2007

Wireless Hotspot Safety - Time To Smarten Up

So you go to your local caf?otspot, sit down with your trusty laptop and casually order a hearty cup of dark roast coffee. After 30 minutes of checking your email, the weather, and writing your latest blog in MySpace, you decide to call it a day. Unknown to you, the guy at the corner table, the one quietly reading his paper sipping java, has just stole your recently typed user names and passwords, and got a kick out of the angry email you sent to your boyfriend. Luckily he was doing it just to see how easily it could be done, and decides to delete your personal information.

Think this cant happen? Well think again. It does happen, and it occurs more often then you think. We need to be more aware of the potential dangers that exist while using hotspots. This article will walk you through the steps needed to keep you safe while accessing local hotspots. Its time to tighten up your laptop security, and practice some safe browsing habits. While it is very important to use firewalls, and antivirus programs, I want to focus more on the less obvious steps you can take to protect yourself. Lets start with your Laptops network settings. Many laptops are set to search and connect to the nearest hotspot. While this option might seem convenient, it does not allow you to monitor which hotspots you are logging on to and determine if they are legitimate.

Turning off this option will prevent your computer from logging on to a hotspot without your knowledge. To see how your Laptop is setup, click start. Go to the control panel. Click network and Internet connections; from there click network connections. There you will see wireless network connection. Right click on that icon and click properties. Click the wireless networks tab. At the bottom you will see an advanced tab, click that. Finally make sure you uncheck "Automatically connect to non-preferred networks." Once this is done you will now have to manually search for and connect to new access points, which is what we want.

Now make sure you know and pay attention to the SSID you are connecting to. The SSID is the name of the network you are accessing. Hackers will often imitate as closely as possible, the original SSID name. It is also a good idea to turn off file sharing, especially if you do not use this feature. By doing so it will help prevent anyone other then yourself access to your files. Many web browsers used today such as Internet explorer and Firefox have built in security features to help warn you of suspicious and non-encrypted websites.

Phishing, which is a form of identity theft that occurs when a malicious Web site impersonates a legitimate one in order to acquire sensitive information such as passwords, account details, or credit card numbers. Is one of the scams Firefox and Internet Explorer try to warn you against. Both browsers have built in phisihing detection. Unfortunately these warnings, which are displayed at the top of your browser are often ignored or shut off completely because of the small inconvenience some believe it imposes.

To check weather or not your browser is protecting you from Phishing scams, first make sure you are using the latest version of the web browser of your choice. For Internet explorer, open your browser and click tools, Internet options; click the advanced tab. Scroll down to security. Once there, look for phishing. Make sure turn automatic website checking is checked. To check phishing filters in Firefox click on the Security preferences pane. On Windows and Linux, go to Tools, Options and then Security.

VPN or Virtual Private Networks are an excellent form of security when accessing hotspots. Many companies, particularly large enterprises, offer their employees Virtual Private Network connections to the company's network and the Internet. VPNs use encryption and other security methods to give wireless network users the same kind of privacy that wired networks typically have.

Lets move on to some things you need to be aware of at all times. Before you enter any private information in wireless hotspot or anywhere on the Internet for that matter, make sure you look for the lock icon within your browser. This lock indicates that the website uses SSL encryption and it is safe to enter personal information. Most websites will also include "https" in the beginning of the website address. The "s" at the end indicates a secure encrypted website. What this mean to you is your personal information is encrypted or scrambled once entered, and makes it nearly impossible for a hacker to decode it.

Another tip although quite simple is, be aware of your surroundings. You do not want someone looking over your shoulder while you are browsing the Internet, or typing in your email password. Speaking of email, when checking your email account at wireless hotspots, it is a good idea to get into the habit of using web based email programs. Most legitimate Email providers will provide SSL security so your user name and passwords you enter are encrypted and kept safe. By following these simple procedures, you will greatly improve your security and prevent your private information from getting into the wrong hands.

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