Using a personal virtual private network is the only way to guard your privacy at a public WiFi hotspot, yet CNN missed a significant opportunity to point out this simple fact in its recent reporting on travel-related cyber-crime.
Other mainstream media — such as The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and the Chicago Sun-Times (in their words: “Well, why are you sending data in clear text over open networks, anyway? You should never ever do that”) — have heartily endorsed the use of a personal VPN like Private WiFi.
Yet in its recent post, CNN acknowledged that the best approach for business travelers when using public WiFi is to remotely log into their employers’ VPN.
But what about the hordes of travelers — self-employed, sole practitioners, small-business owners, students, retirees — who don’t have a company-supplied VPN?
Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that options like Private WiFi exist to encrypt consumers’ online activity in wireless hotspots.
The CNN article instead points out that travelers can protect themselves by using encrypted protocols like HTTPS and should avoid transmitting sensitive information, such as work documents or credit card details, over public wireless hotspots.
We now know that even HTTPS isn’t as safe as we once thought. The suggestion to avoid transmitting sensitive information in wireless hotspots is a helpful piece of advice, no doubt, but not as solid as the recommendation to use a personal VPN to encrypt all sensitive data.
The article explains that cybercriminals are targeting travelers abroad using pop-up windows that appear while they are trying to connect to the Internet through hotel WiFi. As we reported last month on the same topic, the pop-ups tell hotel guests that they need to update a widely used software product. But when they click to install it, what they get instead is malware on their laptops.
Turn Off File Sharing
The risks are very real for travelers — but what are some other strategies beyond thinking before you click, using a firewall, and using a personal VPN? Before using a hotel hotspot, be sure to turn off file sharing!
If you have file-sharing turned on (and your firewall is configured to allow for file-sharing) once you connect to a hub-based WiFi network, your folders and files can be accessed by anyone else in the same network. Read on for simple step-by-step instructions for turning it off in a hotel network, or any wireless network, for that matter.
On a PC:
- Go to the Control Panel.
- Select Network and Internet > Network Sharing Center > Change advanced sharing settings.
- Turn off the options for network discovery, file and print sharing, and public folder sharing for public networks.
- Click Save changes.
On a Mac:
- Go to System Preferences > Sharing.
- Ensure that the file-sharing option is not enabled. If it is enabled (if it has a check-mark next to it), simply uncheck it.