How to be a (safe) Wi-Fi warrior

Protect your privacy on the road.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- Wireless technology makes it easier than ever to work from the road. But laptops get stolen and Wi-Fi networks at airports, coffee shops and hotels can expose users to increasingly sophisticated forms of cybercrime.

"You're insecure if you're on any publicly available network," says Ken Silva, chief technology officer at Internet security firm VeriSign (VRSN). Silva adds that basic measures, like installing a firewall and antivirus software, are no longer enough to protect your data. What's a telecommuter to do?

First, Silva recommends investing in e-mail and hard-drive encryption software and backing up critical work before you travel. If you must use public Wi-Fi, he says, scrutinize the sites you visit and send data only through certified secure and encrypted pages, indicated by a lock-shaped icon and https: at the beginning of the URL.

Yankee Group analyst Phil Hochmuth suggests setting up a virtual private network (VPN), which lets you use your business network and its security applications from remote locations. If you're not using a VPN, he says, think twice before sending sensitive information such as Social Security or credit-card numbers.

Log in to only one network at a time and disable any file- and network-sharing features on your device, even if you do use a VPN, adds Devin Akin, chief technology officer at CWNP, a firm that certifies IT professionals working with wireless networks. Otherwise, uninvited guests can easily sift through your files, install malware on your hard drive and gain access to your company or home network.

Akin also warns of "evil twins": Wi-Fi decoys that resemble legitimate services but are set up by hackers who use them to gather passwords and other vital information from unsuspecting users. To avoid them, connect only to Wi-Fi networks that display certified-secure and encrypted log-in pages.

Finally, don't ignore the low-tech risk of over-the-shoulder snoops. Install a privacy filter on your laptop (made by 3M and other vendors) to shield your screen in close quarters.  To top of page

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