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How can professionals boost public hotspot security?

Public hotspot security needs to be carefully considered by IT departments and traveling professionals to prevent breaches of sensitive corporate data.

While millions of people use mobile devices for the dual purpose of business and leisure, they have become increasingly dependent on connecting to public Wi-Fi while traveling. Unfortunately, using public hotspots comes with the risk of exposing personal and professional information to hackers. While the majority of internet users consider the benefits and accessibility of connecting to free Wi-Fi, they rarely consider the security threats that can compromise sensitive data and, thus, seldom focus on public hotspot security improvements.

Norton by Symantec recently conducted a Wi-Fi risk study in which 15,000 mobile device users from 15 countries were interviewed about their public Wi-Fi usage. The report revealed more than half of respondents, 55%, did not think twice before connecting their devices to a public Wi-Fi signal. In fact, 87% of mobile users reported using public Wi-Fi to access corporate email and conduct online banking -- both high-risk activities. This overwhelming dependency on public Wi-Fi puts a magnitude of information at risk.

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 public hotspot security measures is crucial to protect mobile phones, laptops, tablets and other connected devices while traveling:

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 or more characters -- 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 no one else but that website can read any credit card details or passwords you enter.

As employees enjoy the freedom and efficiencies of working while traveling, it's important to fully understand the risks of connecting over public Wi-Fi networks.

Use a VPN. It's safe to assume the internet access in cafés, hotels, train stations and other public areas is already compromised. If you must use public access points, make sure you turn on your VPN first. This will guarantee all information you send is encrypted and invisible to prying eyes.

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.

In summary, as employees enjoy the freedom and efficiencies of working while traveling, it's important to fully understand the challenges of public hotspot security -- particularly when connecting to corporate networks. Activating a personal firewall and using a VPN client that provides secure hotspot logon and robust endpoint protection will safeguard mobile devices and protect confidential information. Implementing strong passwords, antivirus software and spam filters will also prevent many unnecessary incidents.

Next Steps

Taking on mobile device security risks

Securing public Wi-Fi

Understanding mobile hotspot security vulnerabilities

This was last published in October 2017

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