NPR logo Protecting Yourself In The Wi-Fi Wilderness

Protecting Yourself In The Wi-Fi Wilderness

The Austin, Tex.-based Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit association of hundreds of companies that deal in Wi-Fi technology, has released a list of tips to help keep your data secure as you brave Wi-Fi hotspots or set up your own wireless network.

The advice comes from Kelly Davis-Felner, director of the Wi-Fi Alliance:

Protect yourself when using a public hotspot: Free public hotspots are by nature "open" and unencrypted. To reduce your exposure to unwanted risks:
  • Make sure that you are connecting to a legitimate hotspot — those that require a password have more protection than those that do not.
  • Use a virtual private network or VPN, which establishes a private connection across the public network. This may be supplied by your employer, or you can purchase one.
  • Surfing the web and sending e-mail is fine, but doing your banking for example in a public hotspot is not advised.

(More advice after the jump)

Configure for approved connections: Many devices sense and automatically connect to any available wireless signal. To regain control, simply configure your device to not automatically connect to an open network without your approval.
Disable sharing: Your Wi-Fi enabled devices may automatically open themselves to sharing / connecting with other devices. File and printer sharing may be common in business and home networks, but you can avoid this in public networks.
Install anti-virus software: When connecting at home or at work, it's safe to assume that the other computers on those networks are protected against viruses. When using a public hot spot you have no such assurance, which makes it more important to have antivirus software installed.
Use a personal firewall: When connecting to a public hot spot, you are joining a network with other unknown computers, which can increases your exposure to unwanted risks To protect yourself , run a personal firewall program, which are easy to install and in some cases free.
Insist on Wi-Fi Certified: Wi-Fi devices have the best chance of working together if they are Wi-Fi Certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Is your Wi-Fi device up to snuff? Wi-Fi Certified products require WPA2 — the most up to date security standard in the industry. Check your Wi-Fi devices to see if they are certified.
Secure your home network: Many who purchase wireless routers don't realize that their network is open until you enable security — meaning that anyone in the area can gain access to your Wi-Fi signal and the devices logged on to it. Turn on the security features of your network and consider installing a commercially-available firewall.