I started putting this article together while sitting in a coffee shop, and in the background “50 Ways to leave your Lover” was playing. While sipping my custom crafted triple shot extra grande vanilla mocha latte skim with no whip and contemplating cyber security conundrums and I came upon the idea of a dozen ways to love your data when you travel. And by data I mean files on your computer, login credentials, and things you don’t really want everyone to have access to. How can you securely use openfree wireless networks when traveling? Can we rely on a public Wi-Fi network when connecting to our bank, other financial site, social media or share our private lives online? The answer is simple: No, are you daft? That’s because nefarious types, who mean you ill, can quite easily breach public unsecured networks. Do you really trust that sketchy guy in the corner at the coffee shop? The sketchy one reading the Economist. Does anyone really read the Economist?
I’m reading your mind here. I know what you are thinking, “So, when in I travel or hang out in the airport, Starbucks, or McDonalds, and other common places, and I need to make a payment, update Facebook, etc., should I totally avoid connecting to a FREE unsecured wireless network? Yes, you should; however, the world is often not that clear cut. If you take a few security measures, you can improve your online safety and get done what you need to do. Let me restate once more before we go forward- public unsecured networks are not safe, not even for your mother-in-law. Imagine the embarrassment of having to call your bank and discuss “unusual” activity on your account from “Fancy Pants Lingerie,” when you clearly are a Hanes person. You don’t want to be having that discussion with anyone.
So while singing in your best Paul Simon’s voice let’s wade in.
The problem is all inside your head she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be a dozen ways to love your data….
She said it’s really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued
But I’ll repeat myself at the risk of being crude
There must be a dozen ways to love your data
A dozen ways to love your data.
1. Don’t slip out the back, Jack
Turn off all that sharing on your computer. Think of it like your toothbrush. You wouldn’t share that would you? In the windows Control Panel, under the Network and Sharing option you will find some options. If they are not switched off already:
- Turn off File Sharing
- Network Discovery
- Public Folder Sharing
When you connect to a wireless network, usually it turns these off for you; however, better safe than sorry. If you don’t have these in the Off position, your files may be accessed without your knowledge, or files might get placed on your computer that you don’t want. Just think of your creepy uncle using your toothbrush, to brush his dog’s teeth. You get the picture. As an update, DO NOT EVER use a public USB charging station! Use your own charger, always. You only use a toothbrush you trust don’t you…
2. Make a new plan, Stan
Take out that shiny smartphone from your pocket and hold it in the air saying, “I will be more secure!” Call your carrier and get hotspot enabled on it. Then there will be no need to use the scary “free” access when you are out and about. You can use your phone for a more secure connection and sneer at all those “free” access leeches getting hacked.
3. You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Passwords stink, long live the passwords! My passwords are more like answers to essay questions. I have banana pudding recipes that are shorter than some of my passwords. Well maybe that is a bit of a stretch; however, I don’t reuse passwords on any sites and use no passwords shorter than 20 characters. Many of my passwords are 30+ characters! You should use phrases, or really complex text to create secure passwords. Some good examples might be:
- Bacon Sausage fried love Tofu yuck?
- Clemson Tigers brought Saban sadness 2017!
Now those are not bad. Using something like the list below is madness:
- password (yeah, really. This one get’s used a lot)
- 123456 (this one is second…)
You get the idea, but here is a link to help you understand why you should care about passwords.
You may ask how I keep up with the multiple complex passwords and myriad of sites. There is a side of me that says, “cranial capacity…” but the truth is I use a password manager.
Many of the password managers will generate very nasty passwords for your use. Some good examples might be:
There are many options available, find one. Embrace it, love it, buy it. Then take time to learn how to drive it. May I suggest the following, your mileage may vary:
4. Hop on the bus, Gus
My computer is safer cause I’m running as administrator on it said no one ever. Don’t run your normal day-to-day account as an administrator. Create an admin account that you can use to install things when necessary. Don’t disable UAC on Window 7 and up, I feel your pain but it’s for your own good. Hey, help yourself out by getting in the habit of practicing some of these dozen ideas. Do it over and over, make it so normal you get the “heebie jeebies” when you see others not doing the same. Be paranoid, they are after your data.
5. Just drop off the key, Lee
Officers in control of nuclear weapons use two keys to authorize a launch. Why should you treat your data with any less care. What is multi factor authentication? It is in the most basic form, using two secret keys or codes to access a site. One key may be your password, the other may be an SMS text message containing a secondary code. Some sites use an amazing tool from Google called Authenticator, which make me feel like a missile boat captain getting ready to launch when I am logging in with my two factor credentials. This secondary code changes typically every minute. So even if some evildoer were to capture your password, they would not be able to login without the constantly changing second code. And they logged into the websites two by two…
For an even better description of 2FA take a look at this from Pixel Privacy. It is a really well done explanation.
Many sites – Gmail, Lastpass, Dropbox, Evernote, etc. are listed on https://twofactorauth.org/. This site has a rather straightforward set of instructions on setting two factor up. Go super spy and get your factors on.
6. Don’t be uncarin’, Darren
I dislike the dentist. There I confessed and it feels good, well sort of. The reality is if you don’t care for your teeth, they will develop problems, holes, abscesses and the like and then it gets expensive and painful. If you don’t update the operating system, software and applications on your technology exactly the same happens. You get holes in the security leading to abscesses where your prized data or logins could get compromised. The evildoers are just waiting for a weak system to break into. Then it could get expensive, really expensive think bank or credit card fraud. Hijacked Facebook, or Instagram could be embarrassing? Imagine your head photoshopped onto some guy wearing a coconut bra and grass skirt and posted to your Facebook wall. What about all those secret document from the office you are working on? What will your response be when you say “I lost the recipe to the secret sauce?”
Operating system updates are usually very easy for both Windows and Mac users. They can be automated, and run when convenient. Take time to make sure you system is updated regularly. Adobe Flash and Acrobat seem to get upgraded weekly. Don’t miss out on getting these and any other updates on your system.
To turn on automatic updates on Windows:
Go to Control Panel
Click Windows Updates
Make sure Install Updates Automatically is enabled
7. Don’t be silly, Billy-
When you left your house today you locked the door. You lock it at night before you go to bed. You check the windows to make sure they are locked. Driving around town you lock your car doors. These are normal behaviors we exhibit every day. A firewall on your computer is like locking your doors and windows. It helps keep bad stuff and people out. Windows and Macs both have a firewall built in, use it. Just remember a firewall is not good if you bring bad stuff onto your computer. Watch out for USB drives, and email attachments. You wouldn’t let that scary guy lurking around the neighbor’s house into your house, would you?
8. Care for the stacks, Max
Some computer things are mysterious, almost voodoo like. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are such mysterious things. They allow your Internet connections to be cloaked, thus making your internet traffic obscure and safer while online. When you connect to the unsecure free Wi-Fi, all of your Internet activity can be easily monitored or hijacked. Using a VPN your traffic is hidden from those who have no business in your business. Some companies provide options for VPN traffic. Check to see if your company does before going down this road. If it’s OK by your company, there are many third parties that offer VPN services for a nominal fee that have proven, for me at least, to be secure and robust. I think of my VPN kind of like American Express, Don’t leave home without it!
Some providers are :
- Some others (You get what you pay for…)
Your mileage may vary on these, but they have proven reliable for me.
9. Watch out for the mucous, Lucas
I have three daughters. I paid for my pediatrician’s Harley Davidson Electra Glide by listening to him tell us, “It’s only a virus.” Well it looks like a snot pump to me. But what do I know? Computers can get sick too, so get them covered with anti-virus software. Then make sure the anti-virus is updating at least daily.
Vaccinations are good. When you get your anti-virus squared away, get an anti-malware tool as well. I really like Malwarebytes, which is interesting since I’m not easily impressed. Paired with a good anti-virus, it adds an additional layer of protection with no fuss or muss.
12. Keep the airwaves clean, Eugene
Invisible to us are gazillions of radio waves traveling through the air all around us. Some are used for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which we use on our computers. But if you’re not using it why have it on? Your laptop or smartphone battery will last much longer if its not broadcasting Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for no reason. When these wireless devices are enabled on our computers they present an attack vector for evildoers, especially if they are miss-configured. Turning them off when not is use is sort of like raising the drawbridge over the moat. It becomes much more difficult to storm the castle, because evil knights in armor are not great swimmers.
Away with You
I’m not saying that these dozen topics will protect you from everything; however, they will help you stay safe while out and about with your computer. Taking time to purposefully be careful with your computer will yield benefits many times over. As a point of information no animals were harmed in the writing of this document. The names portrayed refer to no real persons alive or dead.