By Ron Engeldinger
Over the past couple of years, we have become accustomed to having quick and easy access to the internet wherever we are. WiFi hotspots have proliferated at an amazing speed. Wi-Fi connections can be found in large and small hotels, at airports, in coffee shops and restaurants. Even bed and breakfast inns often have free Wi-Fi. For most meeting venues, WiFi access is a must-have. The ease of digital connection often makes us forget how vulnerable we are to security threats. Internet access has many potential dangers.
The recent Meetings Industry Summit, co-sponsored by the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Washington State Chapter and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) featured a presentation by technology expert, Jim Spellos, president of Meeting U. Spellos reminded session attendees that meeting and event planners must give digital security their highest priority. Here are some tools to ensure that you and your clients have a more secure online experience.
MAKE SURE YOUR SOFTWARE IS UP TO DATE
All software products can be susceptible to outside attacks when you operate online. Software companies are regularly working to find and correct vulnerabilities. Almost every new release or update patches security vulnerabilities that the software company has detected. However, it is up to you to ensure that your device has the latest version.
Regularly check all software installed on your device to determine if a software or firmware update is available. Many software products will automatically check for updates and download the latest version although this feature is not always automatically enabled. However, only update your software when you are on a known, secure network. The best idea is to do it from your home or office before you travel
INSTALL ANTIVIRUS AND ANTI-MALWARE SOFTWARE
Your devices are vulnerable to several types of intrusion. A virus is a piece of computer code that is capable of copying itself and doing damage to your computer. It can sneak onto your device in a variety of ways, including through a WiFi network. Malware is any malicious type of software than can cause havoc to your computer. A virus is a type of malware but there are a variety of other types of software that can be dangerous.
No one tool can detect all of these threats, so it is important to use a layered approach. Install an antivirus program to catch all the classic virus threats. Also, install an anti-malware program to ensure protection from the types of intruders that the antivirus program fails to detect.
Most anti-malware software is designed to work hand-in-hand with your antivirus. Many of the well-known anti-virus software companies offer products that combine virus and malware protection, but not always. There are several stand-alone antivirus programs available, and some of the best offer free versions. It is important that you have both types of protection and that they work together.
USE WI-FI SAFELY WITH A VPN
While antivirus and anti-malware products protect the computer, they cannot guarantee the safety of the network the computer is accessing. Information can be intercepted. For additional security, consider using a VPN (virtual private network) on your device. A VPN creates an encrypted connection to a third-party server, and all your Internet traffic is routed through that server. Snoopers on the network will only see encrypted data that is completely useless to them.
Several vendors offer a free basic VPN service that can be installed on any device. For a fee, many also offer a paid premium service with more bells and whistles. This software is easy to install and simple to use.
KEEP PASSWORDS SECURE WITH A PASSWORD MANAGER
You may access several, maybe even hundreds, of websites that require a login and password. How do you keep track of all these passwords? It is tempting to use simple, easy to remember, passwords or to use the same password on several different sites. This approach is fraught with danger.
The best way to handle this multitude of passwords is with a password manager. A password manager stores all your passwords and then generates strong passwords that are hard to decrypt for the sites you access. The only password you have to remember is the one to open your password manager.
The most important way to keep your information secure is to remain vigilant and use common sense. Don’t tempt thieves with unattended devices, especially in public areas. Setting your phone down for even a few minutes can lead to a disaster.
Don’t loan your device to anyone. While you may use sensible online practices, you cannot ensure that the person you loaned it to does. In addition, do not attach unknown devices, such as thumb drives, to your computer.
Set up a lock code on your device or a code or password on every one of your devices. While it may not slow down a tech-savvy thief, it will protect your device from casual access if someone gets hold of it. If you have a newer device, utilize the biometrics feature, such as Apple’s fingerprint swipe.
Do your banking at home if at all possible. If you are using an unsecured WiFi network, avoid accessing sites, such as bank or credit card companies, that require you to enter a password or other sensitive information. If it is absolutely necessary, try to access these sites through a wired connection rather than WiFi.
Disable the WiFi on your device when it is not in use. Your device can be vulnerable to intrusion even when it is not in use. When possible, use your phone or tablet’s cellular service to connect to the internet. The connection through your cellular provider is generally much more secure than a WiFi connection.
Digital security is often easy to overlook. Digital devices are easy to use and connections to the internet are everywhere. However, the ease of use can hide dangers lurking in the background. It is important to keep safety at the top of your mind whenever you are using a digital device.