Enjoy Working in Coffee Shops? Think Security First Before Connecting to an Open Network

Coffee shops make the ideal workplaces for many. They’re relaxing, and the scent of roasted coffee beans never fails to keep everybody wide awake. Also, most coffee shops have Wi-Fi hotspots, so there’s free Internet connection for everybody! We can accomplish all of our digital activities here and enjoy endless cups of coffee while being productive (and occasionally consume great bagels, scones, pie, sandwiches and the occasional cake).

As sophisticated as working in coffee shops may appear to be, digital security experts advise everyone to be extra careful with connecting to an open network. There are so many risks to using Wi-Fi hotspots (it seems that getting everything free really does have a lot of questionable components to it). Free Wi-Fi hotspots are an ideal target for hackers because no authentication is required to establish a network connection. This, then, presents the perfect opportunity for these digital criminals to gain access to all your unsecured devices connected to the same network.

Oh no, right? As we’re enjoying a cuppa and happily logging into our emails, online banks, favourite online shopping sites, and passing around important files through Skype; hackers are positioning themselves right between us and these digital destinations. They’re like that stranger on the train that decides to sit between two friends so that as they carry on a conversation, that “strange guy” in the middle learns details about the goings on in their lives.

But what’s even more dangerous about a hacker is that he can use the information he gets to access our online destinations and pass himself off as us. He can do something really vile, such as distribute all types of viruses for a complete digital “outbreak.”

It’s a real shame that such an unfortunate thing can happen in a place that means coffee, cake and free Wi-Fi. However, there are ways of preventing the Internet hooligans from having their way. First of all, we can avoid logging into our online banks through public Wi-Fi connections. Limiting the confidential information (such as business files) shared online through such connections, is always a smart strategy.

Investing in a virtual private network or VPN is another great security tactic to employ. It can provide protection against hacking activities and it can even bypass website blocking in place on the public network. What a VPN does is create a longer decryption process for hackers, and the hassle of working around the encryption is rarely worth it for them.

There are a variety of paid and free VPN services, the free ones are obviously used by many people, so it isn’t as secure as setting on up yourself through your private servers, or paying someone to run one especially for only you.

But for the regular web browsing and email use, you’ll probably find that a free VPN service will at least add that extra level of security for those lazy chancer hackers who might be “sniffing the packets” on the coffee shop’s Wif-Fi.

I use www.vpnbook.com with a programme called http://openvpn.net Once you setup the connections profiles (which you can pick servers from around the world to tunnel through), you’ll be asked each time to put in a username and password, which you can get from the VPNBook site.

You’ll notice in the screenshot it shows you the server connection information and all the information going in and out traffic wise, which you can check during your online time. It also has a little bottom right hand corner icon in the notifications bar, which when online and connected to the VPN it will be green, if the VPN connection drops for any reason it will notify you and change orange, make sure you reconnect before you carry on doing anything online.

It’s a great way to add an extra level of security, but still be vigilant about what you do. I’d never do my online banking over Wi-Fi, however would quite happily log into my emails through a VPN. Do what you feel comfortable with.

Lastly, turn off sharing and make sure that firewall and other security features on the device are working. They’re there for protection, so enable them completely in order to easily go about activities online.

When it comes to public Wi-Fi, always think of security first – once that’s in place, we can do what we wish while enjoying a nice creamy latte, steamy of course.

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