3 Tips to Secure Your Computer on Open WiFi

Well grab some caffeine, try to stay awake and let's go over the basics on how to secure your computer while you travel. Cyber security is a very broad topic, so we are going to focus on using VPNs, open WiFi and virus protection.
Being nomads, gaining a proficiency in these tools can save you a great deal of hardship on the road. This teaser is to get you thinking about protecting your devices and where to go for more info. Be a hard target! - just like securing your vehicle, securing your computer is more about not being an easy target. Criminals and hackers like easy prey. Simple measures will deter most would be hackers from pilfering your data. Taking a bit of time to research the tools around your digital life just makes sense.

1. Free WiFi? There is a risk with using free Wifi!?

My favorite saying on this is, "if it is free, you are the product." Most free Wifi tracks the users websites, searches‚ etc to be sold or used for marketing. This isn't a big deal to most people due to being plugged in to social media often. However, a few of the more insidious organizations may install a PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program) to continue to track your usage even after you've left their WiFi. An example of a more direct risk while on WiFi is a hacker on the same network intercepting traffic to gain access to personal info or your device. There are several programs that trap internet traffic to be analyzed and used to attack your computer. Some hackers even set up WiFi hotspots posing real networks like "Airport Free WiFi". While this is still fairly uncommon, it is becoming more prevalent. Some areas are more prone to this risk; near college campuses, in larger metropolitan areas and in neighborhoods with free WiFi for everyone. VPNs help protect you from the casual hacker by making you a hard target.

2. Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) SCARY!

Just kidding, a VPN is easy to use these days. A VPN gives you a layer of security that protects you from any threats that come from using public WiFi at coffee shops, hotels‚ etc. With some VPN services you can even make it appear like you are in a different region or country!
Advantages of using a VPN
  • Encrypted internet traffic
  • No data logging or selling of your personal info (buyer beware)
  • Spoofing your location
Disadvantages of a VPN
  • Security comes at a cost with slightly reduced internet speeds
  • VPN is a paid service
Having a VPN helps to protect you against several threats and gives you a higher level of privacy. Being travelers we are particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with open WiFi. A note on privacy and spoofing your location. Most VPNs offer their services with no data logging. This means they do not track where you go on the internet and therefore cannot sell it to marketers or turn it over to government agencies. Some companies have shown they do indeed track data to sell to marketers. Spoofing your location simply means you use a VPN server in any country/city your service offers. This allows you to bypass restrictions on content prohibited in your region. Some countries do not allow certain Netflix shows for instance, you could use a VPN to bypass those restrictions.

3. Virus Protection? No one pays for that silly stuff...right?

I've been doing IT work for well over 15 years. I've never worked in an environment that was not fully protected by some sort of virus protection. For years, if you got a virus on your computer it was a major hassle and would cost you both time and money to get rid of it. Now, with more of our lives and livelihoods transitioning to a digital platform, the need for virus protection is even greater. Add to that, the risks of travelling and our reliance on tech as travelers and you can see why this is such a critical issue. Virus protection is just another tool to help make your gadget a hard target.

Recommendations:

You'll notice I keep expressing the use of these tools as steps to help guard against or detect nefarious action on your devices. I'll be honest in that regardless of what you do, there is likely someone out there that can breach your defenses. These tools are part of what can help you stay safe online. Develop the skills to use these tools effectively and you will reduce your exposure to bad actors on your local WiFi. A lot of the products on the market are at least similar in their ability to protect you. Most of the major virus protection is similar in capability and function. Some VPNs have had some issues with privacy this year. There were a couple large VPN providers that were forced to turn over data to the government for various court cases. The issue being they advertised they were logging no data at all. With all of that I'll not directly recommend one product over another. I will tell you that I use NordVPN and TrendMicro for my VPN and virus protection respectively. I also use MalwareBytes once a week. It is a free program and very good at finding new threats. I encourage you to take the time to learn more about your digital security. Identity theft, loss of data or someone gaining access to your personal files are real threats. Here is some clarification on the jargon:

VPN: Virtual Private Network

A VPN is a tool used to give you more security and privacy while on the internet. It's a critical tool if you are using open WiFi

WiFi

A catch all reference to any wireless network that you may connect to; most of the time for the purpose of getting to the internet. However, WiFi traffic is simple to listen in on and for security it is best to use a tool (VPN) to protect your privacy.

Virus Protection

Virus scanners are programs and tools used to scan your computer and internet traffic for threats. Most viruses today are not targeted and designed to be deployed on thousands of computers at once looking for security flaws to exploit remotely.