It's very common to be offered free or very close to free WiFi at every hotel you visit when traveling for business. While it’s a very welcome sight to see free access wherever you travel, it's hard to really know if a hotel public WiFi connection is secure, even if it is at a major brand hotel chain. Before you just throw your hands up and accept the terms of service and use the free WiFi, be sure to follow these cautionary steps:
Make sure you are up to date on security.
Window’s firewall and an industry leading antivirus software will provide your first line of defense, says Matthew Kelly, founder of Elucid Systems, which advises businesses about security. Your firewall allows or rejects traffic to and from your laptop, this is why it’s important to make sure it’s turned on and up to date.
Most businesses run on Windows, so you can start by clicking on the “Start” menu, then scroll to and click on the control panel. Click on Security Center (the multi-colored shield). The green indicator icon means the firewall is on. If you’re using a Mac, open “System Preferences” and click “Sharing,” then finally click Firewall. You will need to make sure your security software is updated and running daily scans while you are working remotely.
While connecting to the hotel network, make sure you are connecting to the correct network and not a misspelled network used to trick you into connecting to the wrong network.
Frequently, free hotel WiFi or general public WiFi requires a password that is given to you by the hotel at check-in. Make sure you're really connecting to the hotel's WiFi and not an evil misspelled clone, which is normally a doppelgänger connection designed to mislead you, then collect your information for identity theft or other malicious acts. Doppelgänger sites might use a network name similar to the hotel’s WiFi’s name, so ask at the front desk if you're unsure before you log in.
Avoid sharing files.
Avoid sharing files or sites such as GoogleDrive and OneDrive, sometimes agreeing to a Hotels Wifi terms of service can lead to others spying on the files you are uploading and downloading to the cloud
Shut down your Wifi or computer while not in use.
This will lower your risks by removing yourself from the network when you're not actively using it.
Avoid financial communications.
Avoid making online purchases or opening your bank account from the free WiFi connection, it will definitely keep your identity safer, says Kelly. If you have to engage in financial business over WiFi, make sure the site is secured through "https," a protocol that delivers a secure connection. A secure website will have the "https" rather than the "http" in the URL and a green padlock symbol in the top left corner.
Use a VPN connection.
If you're traveling for business, ask if your employer or IT provider if they use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is a network that provides employees with remote access to company resources. These networks use secure technologies which ensure protected access to company data over the Internet. While you are connected to a VPN, your activity will be encrypted so that hackers cannot see what data you are sending over the air. If you're traveling for personal holiday, you can also buy a VPN service. Some corporations such as pulsesecure.net can now allow you to use their service in small additions of time, such as a few hours or days.
If you follow the steps above, you can connect to that hotel WiFi without much uncertainties, says Kelly.
Thankfully, this is one less reason to lose sleep while you’re on the road.