Today you will learn how to use public networks and computers safely. You will also learn how to secure your home computers and networks.
In your facility, you are protected by secure computers, secure networks, and physical barriers like walls and doors. Your coworkers are also working with you to advance the interests of your organization.
However, these protections disappear when you work outside your facility. You may be using your own devices, you are probably on a different network, and you are working near strangers.
In this training module, we will focus on using technology safely when working remotely. A separate but related training module called “Physical Security” focuses on safe behavior when using technology in public places like airports and coffee shops.
Today you will learn how to use public networks and computers safely. You will also learn how to secure your home computers, home network, and cellular devices such as phones and tablets.
Public networks are a convenient option and are available almost everywhere today. Examples include free wireless, or “wifi”, at coffee shops, paid wifi on airplanes, and cellular phone networks of every size. From a security perspective, public networks are challenging because almost anyone can join them, and some of the people on them are hackers.
When you use a cellular network with your phone or tablet you do not have a choice of networks. Instead, you rely on your cellular service provider to secure its phones and its network so that hackers cannot intercept traffic.
However, when you use public wifi you do have a choice of networks. These are usually listed by your computer or device after you click a notification that tells you that “connections are available.”
A list of available networks will usually contain at least three pieces of information. These are a name, a signal strength indicator, and an icon that shows whether or not a password is required. The name field often suggests who owns the wifi connection, and is often also called the SSID. Signal strengths are usually shown as bars or a radar arc, and suggest which wifi connection will give you the fewest connection problems. And “password required“ icons generally tell you which wifi connections do or do not require a password. A lock usually indicates that a password is required, and a shield usually indicates that a password is not required.
The two available network attributes you need to concentrate on for wifi safety are the SSID name and the password required icon. Hackers will often set up their own wifi connections with SSID names that are similar to legitimate names. People who connect to these devices will be under a hacker’s control. To defend against this common attack, you must ensure that the SSID name of the network you are about to connect to matches the name you were given. For example, a hotel may tell you which SSID you should use as part of their check-in process.
The second important network attribute is the “authentication required” icon. This icon basically shows you which networks require a password to connect.
Since hackers could be either be running or be connected to networks without passwords, it is usually safer to connect to networks that require passwords than those that do not.
You are staying at the Splendid Inn and Suites, and you need to connect your laptop to WiFi. There are several connections available. Which should you choose?
You should use the Splendid Guest WiFi connection, as this is the password-required connection provided by the hotel.
Sorry, but that’s incorrect.
Please try again.
The connection between your device and the nearest wifi router is probably safe, but traffic that passes beyond the router to the Internet can still be at risk.
Fortunately, you have defenses against this type of interception. One is to always use a security technology called SSL, also known as TLS or HTTPS, to encrypt your communications to the remote web, email and other servers. The other defense, available mostly to employees of organizations, is to use a security technology called VPN to pass your communications through your employer’s network rather than the public Internet.
While we saw that public networks can be used safely with some precautions, public computers are another matter. A public computer is a desktop, laptop, tablet or another device that has been provided to the public so they can use a computer to browse the web or check email. However, public computers are often running hacking tools and should not be trusted for anything but casual browsing, such as checking sports scores and flight times. In particular, you should avoid entering usernames, passwords, account numbers or other credentials on public computers, and you must avoid viewing confidential documents on public computers.
Now that we have seen how to use public networks and computers safely, we will turn to the security of your home computers and networks.
We are all responsible for protecting our home computers and laptops. Fortunately, we can implement many of the same protections at home that IT staff use to protect organization computers. First, use a regularly-updated copy of anti-virus software to prevent malware from gaining a foothold on your equipment. Second, keep your operating systems and application software up to date so new hacking attacks have less chance of succeeding. And third, perform regular backups to secure removable media or secure cloud services so you can quickly recover from any equipment failure, malware infection or hacking attack.
We are all also responsible for protecting our home networks, even when our entire network is only a single wifi router. Three actions that strengthen home networks involve setting strong passwords, limiting access, and refreshing technology. There are usually at least two passwords that need to be set on home networks. First, the password to get onto your wifi network should be strong enough to resist someone walking or driving by from guessing it. Otherwise, nearby hackers can access your home network. A second password is also often used to configure your wifi router. Many routers ship with easy, well-known passwords like “admin” or “diamond” on their configurations. These passwords must be changed to something stronger to prevent hackers from taking over your entire home network.
Once you have set strong passwords, you should disable remote configuration of the router that connects your home network to the Internet. Most routers allow computers “inside” their network to connect to their configuration interface, but others allow the entire Internet to connect too. Disabling remote configuration of the router prevents people from hacking your home network from anywhere other than your home.
Even after you have secured your passwords and remote access you should plan to keep your technology current to prevent hackers from taking advantage of old vulnerabilities. The most common ways to do this are to install router updates, often called “firmware patches”, or to replace your networking equipment regularly. Since the latter option can be costly, it is smart to research how easy it is to apply firmware updates to new home networking technology before purchasing it.
Today we covered public Wifi safety, especially checking connection names, and using SSL or a VPN to secure communications. We also discussed why you should never type passwords on or access confidential material on public computers. And in the last few minutes, we covered several practices you can use to secure your home computers and network. Please review or print these takeaways and then click “continue” to complete the module.