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Keeping Your Information Safe: WiFi Tips for Secure Remote Work

By: Jerry Horton, Technology Director

Having WiFi at your house makes the work at home life many of us are living right now more convenient than days of ethernet or–perish the thought–dial-up. But WiFi by its very nature comes with its own security risks. Make sure your work is secure by practicing safe WiFi usage.

Understanding WiFi

A WiFi network connects devices together using radio waves, as opposed to a physical medium such as cable or fiber. Whereas fiber is immune to hacking (outside of physically splicing a device into the fiber strand), WiFi is comparably easy to hack because it’s a radio transmission designed to remotely connect multiple devices simultaneously. Once someone is “inside” the network, it becomes easy to gain access to any equipment sharing that network – allowing hackers to control devices, steal data, and implant viruses where and how they see fit.

A Cautionary Tale

In October 2016, the entire Eastern seaboard lost internet for 16 hours in what is called a distributed denial of service attack, which disrupts service by consuming all available bandwidth to knock users offline. Called the Mirai botnet, the attack was initially designed by an undergraduate student at Rutgers trying to profit off of Minecraft players. The botnet–somewhat more successfully than anticipated–implanted malware in all manner of wireless devices it encountered and proceeded to transmit and clog traffic. Any unsecured devices are susceptible to this kind of compromise.

Methods of Securing WiFi

You may be familiar with networks using open authentication. As the name implies, this method allows a device to join a network as soon as it sees the SSID – Station Set Identifier without requiring a password. 

Another method is WEP – Wired Equivalence Privacy – which has somewhat fallen out of favor as it offers minimal security, but is still available on most routers. WPA – WiFi Protected Access – encrypts traffic, making it a bit more secure than WEP.

WPA2 is the best WiFi option because it uses algorithms and advanced encryption systems to make traffic on the network harder to infiltrate and disrupt. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re floating in alphabet soup–we nerds love our acronyms.

Getting to Work

Cyber criminals, like most criminals, are looking for low hanging fruit. If you’re working remotely with access to sensitive information, don’t use an open public network, because these are highly unsecured. 

Disabling automatic connections to WiFi on your devices will give you more control over what networks they access. Always use a VPN – Virtual Private Network – when connecting to a business network from any remote location such as your local coffee shop. Your IT team should ensure you have this precaution in place.

Never operate as an administrator of your device when joining a business network remotely; use personal user credentials with lower clearance levels to limit the information available to potential hackers, and encrypt any files stored locally on the device. 

When securing your personal WiFi network, use WPA2 and a long, unique password. If you’re not tech savvy, not to worry; router manufacturers are making your life easier with prebuilt passwords at different security levels. Visit the router manufacturer’s website for directions on how to make security changes; most devices are managed from a web app where you can personalize your network settings.

Tips from the Experts

For personal devices, we recommend turning on your local firewall, installing an anti-malware program, and investing in a VPN software and network. When browsing the web, if a site offers multifactor authentication, turn it on. 

Multifactor authentication consists of one of four things – something you know (password or PIN), something you have (token), something you are (biometrics), or somewhere you are (geolocation). And of course, never give out your account passwords to anyone, including (anyone claiming to be) IT personnel – anything they need to access, they can access without asking your credentials.

Wrapping it up

Without a doubt, WiFi makes our lives easier, providing connectivity without cables in almost every home, business, and point of interest, but it is not without security flaws. It is up to you to make sure you are maintaining good cybersecurity practices by using WPA2, personal firewalls, good anti-malware, multi-factor authentication, and a VPN whenever it is possible.

Stay safe and healthy!

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