Tips to keep your wireless devices safe

Tips to keep your wireless devices safe

With the wide range of wireless devices that can all access the Internet and potentially store sensitive or personal information, keeping those devices secure is increasingly important.

One of the easiest things to do to stay safe, is using a strong password, according to Public Safety Canada (PSC) spokesperson Zarah Malik.

“Today it’s almost impossible not to be connected. Many of us switch back and forth daily between a variety of devices: from computers and cell phones to tablets and laptops. And all of them allow you to be online at a moment’s notice,” she said. “Making sure your computer or device is protected by a strong password is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve security, as is turning on the auto-lock feature available on most mobile wireless devices. Try to have unique passwords – ones that you don’t reuse elsewhere – for your most sensitive accounts, like online banking.”

Without strong passwords, your phone, tablet and computer and all your personal information and files are left vulnerable to hackers, spammers, identity thieves – and even an offline thief if your computer is ever stolen.

Here are simple measures you can take when it comes to protecting your passwords on your mobile device:

  • All mobile phones can be locked by a password. It’s a basic way of protecting your personal information if your phone is ever lost or stolen.
  • Never stick with the default factory security settings – always manually set your own password or PIN, preferably one that’s exclusive and tough to guess.
  • Enable your password auto-lock so it always locks after a short period of time of not using your mobile phone.

Protect your passwords

  • Never write your password down or store it on or near your computer or laptop. Instead, commit it to memory so you and you alone are the keeper of the combination.
  • If you need to walk away from your computer while you’re at work, make sure you password lock it or set it to lock automatically.
  • As an extra layer of security on top of device password protection, you can also lock any documents or files you choose (such as financial documents or sensitive business files). Check your OS help menu or the file’s application program (such as Microsoft Word or Excel) to learn how.
  • Never leave your laptop or tablet unattended in public spaces such as cafés and libraries – a moment is all a thief needs.

Wi-Fi Security

Another threat to your mobile devices and computers is public Wi-Fi. Public networks are not secure and can be accessed by many different people. You can’t rely on the same security as you would on your home Wi-Fi. So PSC recommends taking a couple of extra precautions, such as:

  • Stick to wireless networks and hotspots that you know – like your local coffee shop or the airport where they provide you with a password to use their Wi-Fi. Unknown or unsecured public Wi-Fi doesn’t require a password, so anyone can connect to it.
  • Check that you’re connected to the correct network.
  • Hackers have been known to set up a phony parallel network near legitimate public Wi-Fi specifically to capture personal data and hijack information. Just one more reason to confirm you’re on the right network.

Once you’re on a safe network, you also need to protect yourself from others connected to the same public network. Here are some tips for public Wi-Fi security:

  • If you’re using your computer in a public Wi-Fi zone but you’re not on the Internet, it doesn’t hurt to turn your device Wi-Fi off (click the wireless icon in your main menu bar or manually adjust this on the device hardware).
  • Never surf without your firewall enabled – especially on a public Wi-Fi network.
  • Never trust the wireless encryption on a public Wi-Fi. Instead, make sure your websites scramble your data by enabling the SSL encryption in the settings of the sites you visit (like your email).
  • Visit the secure HTTPS version of sites and not the unsecure, regular HTTP site. Adjust the site URL with an extra ‘S’ in your browser’s address bar if needed. Be mindful of the URL in the address bar while you’re exchanging sensitive data – if the ‘S’ disappears you should log out right away.
  • Surfing a social network on a public Wi-Fi network can be riskier than visiting normal websites. For instance, once you log in, criminals on the same network can also log in as you. Take extra precautions by erasing your browsing history, your cookies, etc.
  • If you find yourself using public Wi-Fi a lot, a VPN (virtual private network) makes a lot of sense. It’ll direct all your web activity through a secure, independent network that encrypts and protects all your data. A VPN is offered by most Internet Service Providers as a secondary service.

Safe surfing

When you’re online, you’re connected to hundreds of millions of other devices which can find and potentially access your device. To ensure only the people you want are accessing your data and information, it is crucial to have a firewall. Just as anti-virus software protects your computer from the web, a firewall acts as security between your device and any other computer that tries to access it. It also keep all the access points to your computer safe and secure when you aren’t using them.

PSC has several tips on how to enable firewall security:

  • Often, firewall protection will already be part of the OS (operating system) your computer came with. Check to see that it is turned “on”, and ensure that it’s updated on a constant basis. Your OS’ help menu or online help should be able to guide you.
  • If your OS doesn’t include a firewall, install your own firewall software, which will always be quietly guarding your device while you go about your surfing.
  • There is a good selection of free and paid firewall software available on the Internet. Look for programs from credible companies.
  • Rather than software, you may also use a hardware firewall, which is an external device with built-in firewall software. For example, wireless routers targeted at home consumers often have a firewall which can be configured via the administrator web access. This type of firewall helps to prevent unwanted traffic from reaching your computers on the network.
  • Just like your other security programs, to gain maximum protection, you need to keep your firewall constantly updated.

Operating system updates

Regardless what brand of phone you have, it has an operating system (OS) that manages everything on the device. The operating system could be iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile and keeping it up to date is crucial to its safety.

Sometimes holes in the security of the OS are found by hackers and updates are quickly made to patch those holes. Keeping your phone up to date will keep it at the peak of its security, so it is important to check for updates on a regular basis.

PSC recommends following these tips for mobile phone OS security updates:

  • Check your mobile provider’s website regularly for OS update information for your device make and model. Always act on OS upgrade alerts messages from your mobile provider.
  • Do not try to modify the device’s control software, even if you’re an advanced user. Other than breaking the terms of your contract, you could open yourself up to all manners of hacking and malware.
  • Never “jailbreak”, or try to remove the limitations imposed by the manufacturer of your mobile device. No matter how good the third party software may seem, jailbreaking could disable or bypass security measures of your mobile’s OS, making you easy prey for a virus, worm or trojan.

This article, written by Edmonton freelance writer Dave S. Clark was originally published by Postmedia Agency.