Finding and using a wireless connection has become second nature to most laptop users. Few would argue the benefit and convenience of checking E-mail or browsing the Internet while sipping a latte at your favorite coffee hut. But that convenience could pose a serious security threat making a computer and all its data available to hackers. Fortunately, there are simple tips that when followed, will increase a user’s protection.
- Use VPN: Computing & Information Services recommends logging into a Virtual Private Network (VPN) before accessing the Internet via a wireless access point. The new UNH Web VPN, available at http://vpn.unh.edu, allows UNH faculty, staff, and students to enter a secure environment, even while using a public wireless connection. It safeguards against public hotspots that lack sufficient security measures, and creates a secure environment to the UNH network.
- Stay Up-to-date: The second step in protecting E-mail, passwords, data, and on-line transactions is to make sure anti-virus software and operating systems are up-to-date. The importance of anti-virus software on a windows machine cannot be overstated. UNH faculty, staff, and students are eligible for free anti-virus protection. Visit http://www.virus.unh.edu for more information.
- Use Authorized WAPs: Check to ensure the laptop is connected to an authorized wireless network. Just because a hotspot is available doesn’t mean it should be used. Connecting to someone’s wireless access point (WAP) gives access for owners to monitor all activities and potentially share sensitive information such as passwords, bank accounts, credit card numbers, and more with others. In fact, some fraudulent WAPs (aka “evil twins”) are intentionally named to appear to be a legitimate connection with the intention of attracting unsuspecting surfers.
- Secure Your Own Wireless Network: Many have personal wireless routers at home. Just as the practice of connecting to someone else’s WAP is insecure, it is equally insecure to have an wireless network open to others. Doing so could give others access to files on your computer. Additionally, it allows anyone to perform illegal activities using your Internet identity (IP address) opening the possibility of litigation or worse. For more information on securing a wireless network, consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s web site.
Wireless Access Points have made accessing the Internet much easier, but the associated hazards should not be ignored. Following the tips provided will allow surfers to take advantage of new technologies and have peace of mind.
September 25, 2007.