Do This Before Connecting to a Public WiFi Hotspot

wifi-securityWhen you’re on the go – traveling for work, or telecommuting from your local, cozy coffee house – public WiFi hotspots are a lifesaver. At restaurants, hotels, and even the car repair shop, WiFi Internet access has become ubiquitous and, quite frankly, expected by patrons.

Connecting to a public WiFi hotspot is so easy and convenient; the decision to connect has become automatic. We connect without a second thought, and hackers know this.

The Dangers of Public WiFi

When you walk into an establishment with public WiFi, you can usually connect without a password. Don’t do it.

An open, public WiFi hotspot is unsecured. Anyone can access it and easily monitor the data passing through the WiFi router. Anytime you browse a password-protected website, like your email or social media account, your login credentials pass through the WiFi router. Anyone with easy-to-obtain listening software can capture that data and read it clear as day.

Additionally, anybody could walk into a business and set up his own rogue hotspot with the same name as the business’ WiFi hotpot. Unsuspecting patrons connect to the rogue hotspot and compromise their data.

For example, when you see one WiFi network that’s password-protected and one that’s not, you might be tempted to connect to the open one. It’s easier and free. However, you could be connecting to a rogue hotspot – one that appears to be legit, but isn’t.

Even in your own office, you need to be sure to only connect to your password-protected office WiFi LAN and not a rogue hotspot set up to appear like your office’s WiFi network. Many offices provide open WiFi hotspots for guests, which can easily be spoofed.

Password-Protection Doesn’t Mean Secure

So, are all password-protected WiFi hotspots, such as those found in hotels, secure? It depends on what type of encryption is being used. Password-protected WiFi hotspots use a variety of encryptions, such as WPA, WPA2, or WPS. The WPA and WPS security settings can be cracked in minutes. Only connect to hotspots with WPA2 encryption. You can typically see a hotspot’s encryption settings on your device prior to connecting.

HTTPS is a Good Start

When exchanging sensitive information over a public WiFi network, such as credit card info or login credentials, be sure the URL of the page you are entering this information on starts with “HTTPS” – the “S” standing for secure. If you access your email from a desktop client like Outlook or Apple Mail, make sure your accounts are SSL encrypted.

Ideally, when connected to public WiFi, you should only browse sites that are secure (https). However, not all website use security certificates. And, even though the data on secure web pages is encrypted, someone listening in or “sniffing” the WiFi network can still see what sites you are visiting – information that could be used to profile you.

VPN is the Solution

The safest and easiest way to make sure your device and data are safe when connecting to a public WiFi hotspot is to use trusted VPN (virtual private network) software provided by your company or a third party VPN service (check out Lifehacker’s Five Best VPN Service Providers).

VPN software encrypts all of the data passing to and from your device and anonymizes it. You don’t have to worry about what kind of encryption the WiFi hotspot uses, or only browsing HTTPS pages. VPN is a one-solution-fits-all option that makes connecting to WiFi on the go simple and stress-free.

So, when you’re on the go, it’s easy to take shortcuts with your data security. Don’t. Before you connect to a public WiFi hotspot, be sure to activate your VPN software, or take the precautions detailed above.

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Are You Ready for Small Business Saturday?

[This article originally appeared on Time Warner Cable Business Class in November 2014.]

Couple Surfing the WebCan your small business handle the influx of traffic on Small Business Saturday? Don’t get left in the cold! Here are 3 ways to leverage the increase in post-Thanksgiving consumer spending.

Small Business Saturday, founded in 2010 by American Express, is a day to encourage people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Every year, more and more people are taking part.

Black Friday tends to drive a lot of attention to big retailers, so Small Business Saturday is a way to remember and support small businesses during the holiday shopping season.

According to Twitter, 95% of consumers said they plan to shop smaller retailers in 2014 and spend $3 out of every $10 they have budgeted with small business retailers and e-commerce sites. Additionally, 8 in 10 consumers want to support small businesses during the holidays.

With all this focus on small businesses, the last thing you want is to be caught unprepared. Time Warner Cable Business Class offers you these three tips to make sure your small business runs smoothly on Small Business Saturday and during the holiday season…

1. Increase Your Internet Speed
Increased web traffic could slow your site down to a crawl. Get more bandwidth to meet your e-commerce needs.

2. Add a Phone Line
Do a health check on your business’ phone lines, listening to voicemails, hold music, etc. If necessary, add a phone line to better handle customer inquiries.

3. Secure Your Data
Protect your business data and provide a safe and secure shopping experience for your customers.

Taking these three easy steps will help ensure a stable and rewarding Small Business Saturday for your business.

Give us a call at 1-877-818-9321, if you’d like some help.

Dragon Runner Robot Crashes Wedding

[This article originally appeared on QinetiQ North America’s Technology Blog in September 2012.]

Robot RingbearerIn danger of being upstaged at her own wedding ceremony, Laura Wong had a Dragon Runner robot secretly serve as her ring bearer at her wedding this past spring – to the delight of family, friends and geeky romantics everywhere. “Not everybody has a robot at their wedding,” Laura said. Just Princess Leia and these guys.

For the past four years, Laura has been working on the Dragon Runner as a mechanical engineer at QinetiQ North America, designing payloads for the twenty-pound unmanned ground vehicle. “I’ve always had a love for robotics,” Laura confessed. After a failed attempt to train her dog to carry the rings, Laura asked her boss if it would be okay to have a Dragon Runner perform the duty at her wedding.

The whole thing was a secret. Only close family and friends knew the robot would be there. “When it came down the aisle, everyone was laughing and having a blast,” she said. “It went over really well.”

Following the wedding, Laura’s father William Wong posted a write-up of the ceremony, and not surprisingly, the story went viral. Sites like Gizmodo, Buzz Patrol, Geekologie and The Mary Sue picked it up, and Laura and her husband were inundated with attention.

“People were posting on my Facebook page, ‘Did you see this? Look at this one!'” she recounts with a laugh, “It went international. It was a lot more than we expected!”

Check out the video below to meet Laura and listen to her account of the event.

Try not to be too jealous…

Switching to Mac

[This article originally appeared on AOL Shopping in December 2007.]

Mac vs. PCIf you’re thinking of switching from a PC to a Mac for personal or business use, you should consider a few things first…

After two and a half decades of using PCs exclusively, I recently opted for a MacBook Pro when I needed to upgrade my home laptop. The prevailing reason for this was because I do a lot of personal multimedia work at home (video editing, audio production, etc.), and Macs are ideal for this kind of work.

You’ve seen the “Mac vs. PC” commercials on television. And what they’re saying is true. Apple’s hardware is, indeed, superior to PCs; the Mac operating system (OS X) is more streamlined and stable than Windows. But just because the hardware and platform are better, doesn’t mean Macs are best for everyone. There are other factors to consider.

In addition to my personal multimedia work, I also needed this laptop to act as my remote machine for work. Unfortunately, the tools I use for work are not supported by the Mac operating system or the Safari web browser. This may be the case for you, as well.

The way I got around this was by installing a Windows partition on my Mac, where I could install all the Windows programs I needed and access them for work. You can either boot your Mac in Windows, or you can access your Windows programs side-by-side with your Mac programs using VMWare Fusion or Parallels software. This gives you the best of both worlds – superior hardware & the operating system/software of your choice.

If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to purchase a copy of Windows XP or Vista to install on your Mac, which can be a big additional expense.

One downside to installing a Windows partition on your Mac, is it can take up to 32GB of hard drive space. Since you may only start with 120GB (depending on what model you choose), this really limits the amount of storage you have on your laptop. Since I do a lot of video editing, I need as much free space as possible. I had to remove my digital music collection, in order to free up additional space.

Since you can run both Mac and Windows programs on your MacBook or MacBook Pro, you don’t have to spend money on any additional software (other than Windows OS and VMWare Fusion/Parallels). But if you, like me, want to eventually switch over to all-Mac software, you will find that you do, indeed, live in a Windows world – many of the software utilities you use on a daily basis aren’t available in Mac versions. And even if they are available on the Mac, they’re usually limited in functionality compared to the more robust and fully-developed Windows versions. For instance, the AIM client for Mac is less functional than the Windows version. Other utilities (like FTP clients, bit torrent clients, etc.) rarely come in two versions. You’ll have to find completely different Mac products to complete these daily tasks.

If you’re a corporate user tied to Windows software, there is a Mac version of Microsoft Office. Or, if you want to save a substantial amount of cash, you can opt for iWork ’08, which has comparable programs that can export (or save) in Microsoft file formats.

One thing you won’t ever get on a Mac is a version of Internet Explorer. Microsoft stopped making Mac versions of its dominant web browser a while ago. If you have online tools you use for work that aren’t supported by the Safari or Firefox browsers, you have to have a Windows partition on your Mac to run Internet Explorer.

The other big difference between buying a Mac laptop and a PC laptop is price. The Mac will cost roughly twice as much as a PC. This, above all else, is the biggest barrier to switching to Mac. Not only is the software selection miniscule compared to Windows, but the cost of the hardware is a show-stopper for most folks.

The Macs are superior products, and if you are financially able to get one, you should. Just know that you’re going to have some growing pains on the software side. And be prepared to spend even more money to create a Windows partition for your work programs.

And be aware… Once you switch to a Mac, you’ll never go back.