Are you freely exposing your data to data thieves?

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Convenience is everything in our fast-pace world that never seems to sleep. From takeaways to online shopping to 24-hour stores to free public internet networks, our world is being engineered to accommodate people on the go.For the average joe and the workaholic alike, these conveniences have largely improved the efficiency and ease with which they work and play. The only problem with these conveniences is that they can easily cause us to drop our guard when it matters most. Adding “just one more item” to your online shopping cart may cause you to add to your growing debt. A few too many greasy burgers and fries could drastically increase your health costs down the line, and logging on to the wrong network at the wrong time can expose your devices and open the gates for cybercriminals to steal highly sensitive data.Free network connections are very tempting. Consider how many times you’ve ever been in a coffee shop, restaurant, hotel or even airport, where you’ve turned on your Wi-Fi and immediately logged on to an open network because you want to save on personal data costs. Cybercriminals love prying on unsuspecting people looking for a way to access their online accounts and files. By creating open networks, they con people into sharing their sensitive digital information.

When logging on to an open network, you’re essentially allowing anyone with a sense of digital-savvy to see your activity through it. This means that passwords, files, and accounts that you access over these networks are not safe. On top of that, depending on the sharing settings on your device, your files and storage may also be at risk of attack.

For this reason, cybercriminals will often set up open networks in places with high people-density to steal data that might be of value. Logging in to your social accounts on these networks can allow attackers to access your information which they then capture or attach to malicious third-party applications via your social logins. Accessing email in this way may also make cybercriminals privy to a lot of sensitive information.
While coffee shops and restaurants are commonplace for general cybercrimes of this nature, savvier con artists often target hotels and airports where businessmen and women are found in abundance. It is clear to see why trying to access financial accounts and company data on unprotected public networks in these places is an extreme risk.

Naturally, the best practice for travelling businesspeople is to solely make use of private trusted networks where nobody else can gain access to their network activity. However, this is not always possible, but there are safety precautions that can help you keep your data and activity safe from the resident cyber con artists.

The most basic precaution is to distinguish authentic networks from malicious ones. With a long list of open networks, it’s never a good idea to play eenie-meenie-miney-mo. Ask your waiter, hotel lobby personnel, or airport helpdesk which network is theirs. Most of the time authentic networks will be secured with a password that can only be obtained by asking a trusted authority for it. If an unsecured network is used in such places, you should consider alternative options or cede to loss of connectivity unless you’re using a good Virtual Private Network (VPN).
VPNs have become a business-essential for working safely in public spaces. A VPN is a localised virtual network that acts to encrypt and redirect data in ways that cyberattackers cannot decipher. Thereby, attempts to intercept the data are rendered void because of the concealment of the data transaction.

However, VPNs are not a one-size-fits-all solution to network security in public spaces. Files and directories on devices are also a form of a local network. And although this local network on your device acts independently from the networks you connect to, it is possible to enable network sharing, that basically allows your network to become part of another as a form of extended network. This is made possible through network sharing.

Although sharing networks in trusted spaces can be quite beneficial in certain industries, it is not a good fit for public spaces. Cybercriminals will often make use of shared networks to steal files or plant files on other computers that will compromise their system or place sensitive data in danger. Before you connect to a network, make sure that network sharing is disabled on your device. Modern versions of Windows should prompt you before you connect to an unsecured network and enable easy access to the disabling of network sharing. If not, this will need to be done manually via system settings/preferences.

To increase your safety, you should also always sign out of any wireless public network that you are not actively using as it limits the chance of a cybercriminal breaching your network and files. Of course, there are other general practices that also add to security in public spaces: Good security software will often alert you to suspicious activity on your networks while restricting your public network activity to visiting secure URL connections will protect you from outside threats.

Travelling businessmen and women have a lot of worries and stress that their jobs demand. Fretting over the likelihood that cybercriminals can steal information over a public network does not have to be one of them. Don’t become the victim of a tech-savvy con artist and stay safe on public networks by making sure they can’t reach your data in the first place.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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