6 ways to keep data safe on public WiFi networks

These days, employees want to be able to work from anywhere at any time. That can be good for productivity, but terrible for data security.

When workers connect to WiFi hot spots in public places, they could be exposing sensitive data to hackers’ prying eyes. Unencrypted info traveling through the network can often easily be seen by anyone who knows how to find it.

In a recent ComputerWorld story, Ryan Crumb, director of information security for PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services, revealed some of the info he has been able to find on public hot spots — including Social Security numbers, corporate financial data and info about upcoming business deals.

While IT pros understand the danger of working on unsecured WiFi networks, the average worker most likely doesn’t. Here some steps you can take to keep company data safe when employees use company laptops on the go:

  1. Make sure the laptop’s firewall is configured to block unauthorized access from the Internet to the computer.
  2. Encrypt company e-mails using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. Also, consider encrypting all data on the laptop.
  3. Turn off file sharing capabilities on Windows laptops.
  4. Disable the laptop’s ability to automatically connect to available WiFi signals, and tell users to turn the wireless adapter off when they don’t need the Internet.
  5. Train users to ask for the name of the network before they connect. Hackers sometimes set up bogus hot spots to intercept data.
  6. When possible, require mobile workers to connect through a corporate VPN.