Securing Your wireless Network
As access to wireless internet soars, Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth connections have become vulnerable points of access for illegal activities. However, there are many ways to decrease your chances of becoming a victim of data or identity theft.
No matter what kind of internet access you use, encryption is the best way to keep your personal data safe. Encryption scrambles the data in your message so that only the intended recipients can read it. When a website address starts with "https" instead of "http, " that indicates that encryption is taking place.
The two most common types of encryption are Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, and Wi-Fi Protected Access, or WPA. The strongest one commonly available is WPA2, so use that whenever it's available. Home Wi-Fi systems and public Wi-Fi access points, or "hotspots, " generally will inform you of the encryption they use.
Public Wi-Fi Access
Many Wi-Fi users prefer choose to use public networks instead of their devices' data plans for accessing the internet remotely. But the convenience of public Wi-Fi does not come without risk. If you're not careful, a hacker can access your connection in a matter of seconds, and potentially put sensitive information stored on your device and in online accounts at risk. Here are some steps you can take to minimize the risk:
- Check the validity of available Wi-Fi hotspots. If more than one hotspot appears claiming to belong to an establishment that you're in, check with the staff to avoid connecting to an imposter hotspot.
- Check to make sure all websites you exchange information with have "https" at the beginning of the web address. If it does, your transmitted data will be encrypted.
- Consider installing an app add-on that forces your web browsers to use encryption when connecting to websites - even well-known sites that do not normally encrypt their communications.
- Adjust the settlings on your smartphone so that it does not automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi networks. This gives you more control over where and when you connect.
- If you use public Wi-Fi hotspots on a regular basis, consider using a virtual private network, which will encrypt all transmissions between your device and the internet. Many companies offer VPNs to their employees for work purposes, and individuals may subscribe to VPNs on their own.
- When you must transmit sensitive information, using your cellphone data plan instead of Wi-Fi may be more secure.
Bluetooth connections to your mobile devices can be very useful, from connecting a wireless headset to transferring files to enabling hands-free calling while you drive. Most of the time, a user must allow a Bluetooth connection to occur before data is shared - a process called "pairing" - which provides a measure of data security. But just like Wi-Fi connections, Bluetooth can put your personal data at risk if you are not careful. Here are some steps you may wish to take when using Bluetooth:
- Turn Bluetooth off when not in use. If you keep Bluetooth active, a hacker may be able to discover what other devices you connected to before, spoof one of those devices, and gain access to your device.
- If you connect your mobile phone to a rental car, a good deal of data from your phone may get shared with the car. Be sure to unpair your phone from the car and clear any personal data, such as call logs and saved numbers, from the car before you return it. Take the same steps when selling a car that has Bluetooth.
- When using Bluetooth, use it in "hidden" mode rather than "discoverable" mode. This prevents other unknown devices from finding your Bluetooth connection.
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