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Your Justifiably Paranoid Free WiFi Rules

Here’s a quote from our favorite fictional hacker, Elliot Alderson, from Mr. Robot:

People always make the best exploits. I’ve never found it hard to hack most people. If you listen to them, watch them, their vulnerabilities are like a neon sign screwed into their heads.

In our quest to work anywhere, we often stop by the proverbial coffee shop for a latte and free wifi. And it’s not only our favorite cafes that have wifi. Walmart and McDonald’s have free wifi too. And while we’re not going to give up working wherever we want, it’s time to actively protect our business information from falling into the wrong hands.

Rule #1: Understand That You’re Not Paranoid

Someone is always watching. Unless you’re incredibly skilled, everything you do online can be traced. You’re not paranoid because the threat is real.

Free WIFI opens the proverbial door and gives the keys to the kingdom to anyone and everyone. And we’ve all used it. Mostly, we don’t even consider the threat until it’s too late.

Here’re a few reasons why it’s risky to use public wifi:

  • Public WiFi networks are almost always unencrypted
  • Security issues that can happen from using unsecured public wifi: identity theft, hacking, and compromised bank accounts.
  • Wireless eavesdropping can happen on virtually any public WiFi network

Rule #2: Don’t Be a Wounded Gazelle

Walk into any cafe, in any city in the country. You can easily pick out who is working on their phone. You don’t have to stop working from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Although you’ll still be at risk until you learn how to protect yourself. You’ll still be identified as a gazelle. Someone just waiting to be attacked.

But you don’t have to be a wounded gazelle.

It’s so much easier to hack a person sitting in a cafe than to try and hack inside an office building. If you were a hacker, wouldn’t you choose the easiest target? A predator (our demon hacker) has a difficult time taking down the entire herd (our business). Yet, it’s not that easy to target one business owner or employee who’s lazily enjoying a pumpkin latte, while using their free Wi-Fi.

Rule #3: Encrypt or Walk Away

In his article, How to stop hackers from stealing your information on public Wi-Fi, author Arthur Baxter says:

Hackers want to sit between you and the websites you visit in order to look at your information. They do this with little effort on public Wi-Fi. Besides the lack of security, all sorts of different people might their share sensitive information through public Wi-Fi.

There’s a lot you can do to protect your phone’s integrity. Add a lock when you’re not using it, always keep the software updated, and only download apps from trusted sources. But if you’re going to conduct business on your phone, install software like Norton WiFi Privacy or Avast Mobile Security & Antivirus.

There are some that argue that you can set you your phone to do most of what security apps do. This is probably true. Yet, why take the chance that you get it wrong? I’m not interested in learning how to defend myself from mobile hackers, so I’ll use technology as my hack-blocker. I still need to understand the basics, but I’ll trust my wingman to help me out.

You’re Not Paranoid – You’re Smart

It’s incredibly naive to believe that our mobiles are safe. Mobile is 29% of all U.S. eCommerce and 34% globally. Not only that, but more and more people are working directly from their phones. That means using file-sharing apps, accessing and PayPal accounts, and even scanning checks directly into your bank account. This all adds up to a major security threat, not only for you but your business too.

None of this means we have to stop working from our mobiles. It just means we have to be smart about what we do and take the threat seriously.