The National Security Agency has issued a new “best practices” data sheet for keeping home networks, laptops, and mobile devices secure.
Among the tips, the NSA urges consumers to use a personal virtual private network (VPN):
Many establishments (e.g., coffee shops, hotels, airports, etc.) offer wireless hotspots or kiosks for customers to access the Internet. Since the underlying infrastructure is unknown and security is often lax, these hotspots and kiosks are susceptible to adversarial activity. The following options are recommended for those with a need to access the Internet while traveling:
a. Mobile devices (e.g., laptops, smart phones) should utilize the cellular network (e.g., mobile Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G services) to connect to the Internet instead of wireless hotspots. This option often requires a service plan with a cellular provider.
b. Regardless of the underlying network, users can setup tunnels to a trusted VPN service provider. This option can protect all traffic between the mobile device and the VPN gateway from most malicious activities such as monitoring.
c. If using a hotspot is the only option for accessing the Internet, then limit activities to web browsing. Avoid accessing services that require user credentials or entering personal information.
Of course, the use of a personal VPN software like Private WiFi (try it free for three days on your Mac or PC!) is the best security option of all, since it creates a “secure tunnel” between you and any would-be hackers!
The NSA also encourages using sites that feature the “security lock” or SSL encryption:
Application encryption (also called SSL or TLS) over the Internet protects the confidentiality of sensitive information while in transit.
SSL also prevents people who can see your traffic (for example at a public WiFi hotspot) from being able to impersonate you when logging into web based applications (webmail, social networking sites, etc.).
Whenever possible, web-based applications such as browsers should be set to force the use of SSL.
Financial institutions rely heavily on the use of SSL to protect financial transactions while in transit. Many popular applications such as Facebook and Gmail have options to force all communication to use SSL by default. Most web browsers provide some indication that SSL is enabled, typically a lock symbol either next to the URL for the web page or within the status bar along the bottom of the browser.