How to protect your internet working from home

A girl working on a laptop in a coffee shop

The coronavirus is coming and for many of us, that is likely to mean an extended period of working from home.

For some, that will be bliss, but others may well get cabin fever and start to crave the company of others.

For some (hopefully those not showing any symptoms) that is likely to mean a stroll down to your favourite coffee shop or the local library.

This might offer you the chance of a decent cappuccino and a bit more of an atmosphere than your front room.

Aside from the obvious coronavirus related issues, you should also be aware of the potential risk that comes with working in public places too.

What are the dangers of public working?

Working from the comfort of a lovely coffee shop with a steaming cup of coffee and perhaps a cheeky slice of your favourite cake might seem a very enticing proposition, but there are various risks you need to be aware of:

Public Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi offered for free to people in coffee shops and libraries is somewhat insecure.

While it’s not as insecure as a few years ago due to the uptake in website using the more secure ‘HTTPS’, it still has its pitfalls.

HTTPS secures all of the data passing from your browser to the website, making it unreadable to others.

These public Wi-Fi networks are open for anyone to use and the passwords are usually very weak and easy to obtain or there’s no password at all.

Even a novice hacker who can access a public Wi-Fi network could be able to see some of your plain-text communication like emails sent from a desktop or phone email app.

Some apps still send data over plain-text too, which could potentially be readable to others.

Matt Boddy of Sophos tested 14 Android apps and found 4 sending plain-text data. (Source)

Fake networks

A common scam some hackers use is to set up a fake Wi-Fi network that sounds like it is being provided by the coffee shop you are in but is actually run by them.

These fake networks are usually open for anyone to connect to and act as a honeypot to attract you in.

You’ll often find these in areas where there are no other open Wi-Fi networks, tempting you to connect.

Prying eyes

You never know who else might be in the same coffee shop as you and who might be looking over your shoulder.

If you are working on something sensitive, doing online banking, or anything else remotely private, you should always be aware of who might be around.

Coronavirus

It’s an obvious risk, but coronavirus is highly contagious and sitting in close confines with people you don’t know for long periods undoubtedly increases the risk of you becoming infected.

Be aware of who is around you, especially if they are coughing or displaying other symptoms.

Remember, if you’ve already had the change to work from home, it’s for a good reason and exchanging your busy office for a busy cafe might not be the wisest of choices.

Follow the UK’s NHS advice for best practises on how to avoid contracting the disease.

How to protect your privacy

If you are determined to get out of the house and do some work in your local coffee shop or library for a change of scenery, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself from these various threats:

Physical privacy

If you are working on something sensitive, think about where you are going to sit.

If you are going to sit with your back to the café, you have no way of knowing who is behind you and potentially looking over your shoulder. The same as if you sit with a window behind you.

Try to choose a seat in a corner or with your back to a wall to minimise who can see your screen.

Invest a laptop privacy filter

If it is not possible to get a seat by the wall every time, the next best thing is to invest in a laptop privacy filter.

These filters go over your laptop screen and prevent people from being able to see what’s on your screen unless they are directly in front of it. In other words, if someone is peering over your shoulder, they still can’t see what you are doing.

There are plenty out there from the likes of:

Use a VPN

If you want to stay safe when using a public Wi-Fi network, you need to be connected to a VPN.

A VPN will encrypt all of your online data meaning that any opportunistic hacker will not be able to see what you are doing.

A VPN also means the Wi-Fi provider can’t see what websites you are visiting either meaning your online privacy is protected.

Be sure to avoid free VPNs that can create more risks than they solve but instead invest a high-quality VPN that will deliver maximum protection.

Again, there are plenty of providers out there but some to check out include:

Other online precautions

While using a VPN is one of the most crucial online security measures you can take when using public Wi-Fi, there are various other things you can do to help you to stay safe, including:

  • Always use HTTPS websites. You can download the HTTPS Everywhere extension to help you with this;
  • Turn off Wi-Fi auto-connect to be sure you know which Wi-Fi network you are connecting to;
  • Turn file-sharing off on all devices connected to public Wi-Fi;
  • Avoid doing anything private or opening sensitive documents when connected to public Wi-Fi;
  • Always keep your devices and apps up-to-date.

Other uses for your VPN

There are various other benefits to signing up with a VPN besides staying safe on public Wi-Fi.

If you are set for an extended period of self-isolation, some of these may prove extremely useful and include:

  • Access home streaming services abroad – If you find yourself overseas, you can use your VPN to access things like UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer no matter where you are.
  • Stop your ISP collecting data on you – In the UK, ISPs retain records of every website you visit for a minimum period of twelve months. When you connect to a VPN, they cannot see your internet history, so your online privacy is greatly enhanced.
  • Circumvent censored content – If you live in a country where the government censors the internet, a VPN can help you get around this and access content as usual.

Summary

If you are going to work from a coffee shop in the coming weeks, being aware of the risks of coronavirus is a top priority.

But, you also need to be aware of the dangers of using public Wi-Fi and other issues surrounding working in public too.

Considering both your physical and internet security will allow you to ride out this current heath storm leading to one less thing to worry about.

Now, where can I get some toilet rolls…

Do you have any other tips for working in public or from home? I would love to hear them so drop me a comment in the comments section below.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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