Wireless internet (WiFi) is used nearly everywhere in the United States. WiFi enables you to access all the resources the internet has to offer. From anywhere globally, WiFi can allow you to be wireless, no more having to worry about being tethered to a cable. However, if you are not careful, it also means that anyone can also use the same access point and, potentially, even spy on your online activity. Thankfully, it is not too hard to protect your connection and keep your information private.
The first, easiest, and most obvious way to protect a WiFi connection is to give it a password. This method makes it so only people in the know can join and directly influence the network. Of course, you should follow best password practices to make sure it is not easily guessable. You can do this by using a mix of upper/lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols, as allowed. You can only implement this method on WiFi connections where you have full control, which is one of the many reasons why you should avoid connecting to and most certainly should not work with sensitive information over public WiFi.
An effective way of protecting the data that you transmit over WiFi is by employing a VPN. VPN stands for "virtual private network," which in non-technical terms means that it is a digital tunnel through which you can access the internet and is only accessible to you. In addition to hiding data from prying eyes, a VPN also will keep your IP address hidden, which is your computer's address on the internet. Using a VPN can make it acceptable to work with more sensitive data, even on public WiFi, since the VPN encrypts the data during this internet journey. However, it is important to remember best internet safety practices. While a VPN keeps your data hidden, it cannot protect you from downloading malicious files by accident.
Several wireless security protocols developed to help protect users' wireless home networks and often come active by default on commercial routers. These protocols are in order of how old they are and how widely implemented they are: WEP, WPA, and WPA2. WEP has largely been abandoned and even labeled as 'decrepit' by the IEEE due to numerous vulnerabilities. However, WPA and WPA2 continue to see widespread use to help protect wireless networks. Once again, simplifying things: WPA and WPA2 are used to protect your WiFi network from outside intrusion as opposed to VPNs which are used to keep your data private even when it is sent over WiFi.
- The router you use for your home/office's WiFi network should be using WPA/WPA2 security
- Keep the router password protected by using a strong password.
- Never work with private information over public or unprotected WiFi, at least not without a VPN encrypting your data.
If you would like further advice on how to keep your digital presence secure, we recently posted a series of posts for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.
We also recorded a webinar that month with some cybersecurity specialists.
Check it out!