Pave Your Own Information Highway: Making Public Wi-Fi Private | Information Technology | University of Pittsburgh
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Pave Your Own Information Highway: Making Public Wi-Fi Private

The world is changing rapidly. As professional environments become increasingly flexible, more and more employees are able to work remotely from home and other locations. You may find yourself doing some work in the evening, performing your job off-site one or more days a week, or even having an entirely remote position. While riding the information superhighway of the new workplace, it’s important to make sure that unwanted hitchhikers aren’t tagging along with you.

Public Wi-Fi Is a Crash Waiting to Happen

Public places like restaurants, hotels, parks, airports, and coffee shops often provide free Wi-Fi. You might think, “Score! I can get some work done here without using up my data!” Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi networks are highly vulnerable.

It’s easier than you might think for hackers to intercept your signal, enabling them to gain access to a wide array of personal information about you. They can view and steal your usernames, passwords, geolocation, email content, financial information, and browsing data in a matter of minutes.

Once they have that information, they gain the ability to hack into the systems you use, commit identity theft, sabotage your accounts, or deliver a virus onto your device. What I’m saying is that open, unsecured Wi-Fi connections pose a great risk, and you should seriously think twice about using them. When you do use free Wi-Fi, don’t visit any sites or send any information that you wouldn’t want to fall into the hands of a hacker.

Do you have to abandon your desire to work while enjoying a caramel macchiato in a cozy café or in your PJs from your living room? Nope. You just need to take that vulnerable Wi-Fi public street and turn it into an information highway where you’re the only driver on the road!

Drive Safe with Virtual Private Networks

Perhaps the best way to safely work, surf, and make purchases online is to use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, creates a secure and encrypted pathway from your device to the internet server you’re connecting to. VPNs hide your IP address and encrypt all the information that you send and receive over the network. The VPN prevents this information from being seen by both your ISP and any other unwanted spectators. This enhanced security protects your personal data from being sold, shared, or stolen.

The majority of VPN services charge a fee; the ones that are free often collect your information and sell it to advertisers and other third parties. (Not sure how that satisfies the ‘private’ part in VPN, but they call themselves a VPN service anyway.)

That’s where Pitt IT comes in—they provide an advanced VPN service at no cost in order to keep prying eyes out of your data and out of their servers.

Let PittNet VPN (Pulse Secure) Be Your Traffic Cop

Pitt IT provides faculty, staff, and students with free access to PittNett VPN (Pulse Secure) so you can work safely online. Faculty and staff, in particular, are strongly encouraged to use Pulse Secure when accessing restricted University resources, such as firewall-protected departmental servers and databases, from off-campus locations. The service also includes a security check to make sure your computer doesn’t have a virus, worm, or other security threat that could accidentally infect the network. So you’re protected and the University is protected: win–win.

Want to Access Library Systems Remotely? Use EZProxy

Pulse Secure is a reliable route for working online securely. There’s only one detour: University Library System (ULS) and Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) require you to use their web proxy server, EZProxy. EZProxy lets you access ULS and HSLS resources remotely. With EZProxy, current Pitt students, faculty, and staff can log in to access articles, ebooks, electronic journals, and databases from off-campus locations.

Take advantage of these free Wi-Fi security resources to help make sure that your personal information stays FYEO — for your eyes only.

By Tabitha Barnes, Pitt Student IT Blogger

You tell me: Where’s your favorite spot to unwind while going online? Tell me in the comments below.

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