As mobile devices have permeated every aspect of private and professional lives, users have become increasingly dependent on connecting to public hotspots – especially when traveling. While the majority of Internet users consider the benefits and accessibility of utilizing free Wi-Fi, they rarely consider the security threats that can compromise sensitive data.
Surprisingly, while many users have taken basic security measures to protect their desktop computers at the office and at home, the same security measures such as anti-virus software, two-factor authentication, and encryption are often not implemented on mobile devices. As unprotected mobile devices are easy targets for hackers, connecting them to public hotspots can have serious consequences such as compromising company files, contacts, email and other internal data.
To gauge public Wi-Fi usage globally, Norton by Symantec interviewed 15,000 mobile device users from 15 countries. The report revealed that more than half of respondents, 55 percent, did not think twice before connecting their devices to a public Wi-Fi signal. In fact, 87 percent of mobile users reported engaging in high-risk activity via public Wi-Fi such as accessing corporate email and conducting online banking.
While these statistics are alarming, security threats from public hotspots can be dramatically reduced by utilizing a personal firewall and a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Digital containers can also be used to protect data like a virtual safe and only release data once a secure connection is established to the company network. Implementing the following security measures is crucial to protect mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and other connected devices:
Avoid sharing sensitive data – Never share sensitive information such as bank details, personal identification numbers, or company passwords over an unfamiliar Internet connection as this information could potentially be stolen.
Password-protect devices and applications – Update all devices and individual applications with strong passwords made up of eight characters or longer before leaving home. If possible, use two-factor authentication for enhanced security.
Check for https when paying online – A genuine secure payment site will prefix the URL with https: together with a padlock symbol. This padlock symbol represents encryption of all traffic to and from the website, ensuring that no one else but that website can read any credit card details and/or passwords you enter.
Use a VPN – When traveling, it’s safe to assume that the Internet access in cafés, hotels, train stations, and other public areas is already compromised. If you must connect via public access points, make sure to utilize a VPN. This will guarantee that all information you send is encrypted and invisible to prying eyes. A VPN provides secure access to sensitive company information, enabling employees to work from any remote location without concern that the data may be intercepted or subjected to hacking attacks.
Implement a personal firewall – A robust personal firewall must be able to differentiate secure or “friendly” networks from unsecure public networks. To ensure mobile computing best practices, configure the firewall to block all traffic except VPN communications on public hotspots.
Detect secure hotspot logons – When connecting to a Wi-Fi network, a browser typically prompts users to agree to the terms and conditions of the hotspot provider. With a properly configured personal firewall in place, unsecure networks will be detected and blocked entirely. Therefore, only secure hotspot logons will be accessible.
As employees in particular enjoy the freedom and efficiencies of working while traveling, it’s important to remain aware of the risks that arise from connecting to public hotspots. Activating a personal firewall and utilizing a VPN client that provides secure hotspot logon and robust endpoint protection will fully safeguard mobile devices and protect confidential information. Implementing strong passwords, anti-virus software and spam filters will also prevent many unnecessary incidents. These security measures allow employees to securely access corporate networks and continue working regardless of time and location.